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Elective surgeries such as hip and knee replacements will start back up again at UCHealth and Penrose-St. Francis Health Services facilities Monday with many new precautions in place to ensure patients are protected from the coronavirus.

“Patients probably have less of a chance of being exposed in our nice controlled environment here than they do at the grocery store,” said Dr. Jennifer Kollman, senior medical director of anesthesiology for the southern region of UCHealth.

The health systems will be providing elective surgeries with the blessing of Gov. Jared Polis under the new "safer at home" order that takes effect Monday. Polis previously prohibited elective surgeries starting on March 23 to help preserve personal protective equipment and ensure hospitals would have capacity to serve a surge of coronavirus patients. Urgent surgeries, such as emergency heart surgery, were allowed and provided by Colorado Springs hospitals.

Now Colorado Springs-area hospitals are seeing low numbers of coronavirus patients and health system officials say they are ready to reopen elective services slowly.

UCHealth is treating fewer than 20 coronavirus patients in all of its Pikes Peak-region facilities and Penrose-St. Francis has also seen it’s numbers drop, officials from both health systems said.

“The Pikes Peak region should be reassured that we have seen a steady decline of COVID-19 patients since the end of March. … We presently have a very low census of COVID-19 patients,” Dr. Bill Plauth, chief medical officer for Penrose-St. Francis, said in an email.


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UCHealth will be reopening to about 60% to 80% to its normal surgical volume and providing procedures such as hip and knee replacements, hernia repairs and gallbladder surgeries, Kollman said. The health system will not be providing cosmetic surgeries, said Cary Vogrin, UCHealth spokeswoman.

UCHealth surgeons will be prioritizing their own cases based on the needs of the patients and clinics will be in touch with patients directly about the timing of their surgeries, Kollman said.

“I know that we have a very large number of cases to get through, but we are very confident that we can do that in a timely manner,” she said.

Penrose-St. Francis will be selecting patients with a lower risk of complications for surgeries to reduce the likelihood of depleting supplies, medications, and other equipment such as intensive care unit beds and ventilators, Plauth said.

Penrose-St. Francis staff are still conserving personal protective equipment, Plauth said. Common protective equipment includes gowns and N95 masks that effectively filter out airborne particles. The health system has been reprocessing and producing its own protective equipment, which has “kept us ahead of the curve” compared to other facilities, he said.

UCHealth has adequate personal protective equipment and while it is collecting masks for reprocessing, it has no plans to reuse them at this time, Vogrin said.

The health systems also say they do not expect to be hindered by national shortages of common sedatives, anesthesia medications and drugs used to immobolize patients.

Common sedation drugs, such as, ketamine and propofol, and common anesthesia medications, such as fentanyl and morphine are all in short supply nationally, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“As part of our plan for opening some electives, we are taking those shortages into account, so this shouldn’t create more difficulties,” Plauth said.

UCHealth is not impacted by any of the national drug shortages, Kollman said.

To prevent the spread of coronavirus, Penrose-St. Francis will be asking patients to keep a 10-day log of their temperature and show an absence of any symptoms during that period, Plauth said.

Patients must also be tested for COVID-19 at Penrose Community Urgent Care two days prior to their procedures where they will also receive masks to wear while visiting a hospital, he said.

UCHealth is also requiring patients to get tested for COVID-19 prior to procedures at it’s drive-thru testing site near Parkside Drive and KidsKare Point, Kollman said. Patients in need of urgent care can be tested in-house in about 45 minutes, but those tests are limited, she said.

Elective surgery patients that test positive for COVID-19 will be rescheduled, if possible, at both health systems, Plauth and Vogrin said.

UCHealth also said it plans to build in an hour between surgeries to allow time for cleaning, air circulation and social distancing between patients, she said.

Some of UCHealth’s other social distancing precautions will include asking patients to wait in their cars so they don’t have be close together in waiting rooms and placing markers on the floor to keep patients away from each other in waiting areas, she said. 

 UCHealth patients are also asked to wear masks while in hospital buildings they can provide their own masks or one will be provided to them, Kollman said. 

If COVID-19 cases continue to trend downward UCHealth will open up more services, she said.

“We are really trying to be very measured and use what evidence we have to match our opening to the needs of our region,” she said.

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 429-9264.

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