What It Means For Tennessee To Ban Elective Medical Procedures During Outbreak

Mar 24, 2020


Joint replacement surgery is among the procedures temporarily banned under an executive order from Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.
Credit Courtesy of Sight Medical

Surgeons were already calling off some elective procedures as coronavirus patients threaten to stress hospitals in Tennessee. Now, surgeries deemed “non-essential” have been banned for nearly a month.

Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order was signed Monday. Most heart surgeries are exempt, so is cancer treatment. And of course, labor and delivery must go on.

But joint replacements, bariatric surgery and all cosmetic procedures are cancelled. Still, that leaves a lot of decisions to make.

“Sometimes it’s a judgment call,” says Dr. Jonathan Perlin, chief medical officer for Nashville-based HCA.

The hospital chain runs Tristar medical centers in Middle Tennessee and facilities in two dozen states with various standing orders.

Texas and Florida — two key markets for HCA — had already banned elective procedures in recent days prior to Tennessee’s announcement.

Perlin says most patients don’t want to be in a hospital at this point if they don’t have to be. He says HCA is relying on federal guidance, which says that if a patient will suffer from a procedure being put off 90 days, it should go forward.

Preparing for a Surge

“The social responsibility, the preservation of space, protective equipment and the assignment of staff is focused front and center on preparing for or treating patients with COVID,” he says.

Hospitals in Tennessee still aren’t being flooded with patients. But they’re preparing for a surge.

The state is hoping that the cancelled surgeries will free up protective gear and ventilators that could be used to treat critical coronavirus patients.

As part of the order, dentists are also shut down except for emergency procedures. And the state is asking them and surgery centers to turn over all masks, eye protection, TYVEK suits and gloves to the nearest Tennessee National Guard armory.

“We will take these steps one at a time,” he said at a press conference Monday afternoon. The order expires April 13.

This story was reported by WPLN in Nashville.