With the coronavirus pandemic sending more people to Bay Area emergency rooms, some local hospitals are scaling back surgeries and procedures that can wait in a bid to free up limited bed space for those who need it most.

But in a departure from earlier in the pandemic, where cancellations were widespread, some hospitals are continuing outpatient procedures — meaning they can try to free up bed space but preserve a badly needed source of revenue.

As of Nov. 30, Santa Clara County’s three hospitals — O’Connor, St. Louise and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center — cancelled “all adult elective non-urgent surgeries and procedures that require post-operative admission to the hospital,” said spokesman Maury Kendall.

Outpatient procedures will continue — for now. Back in the spring, the hospitals cancelled surgeries whether they required an overnight stay or not.

Some Kaiser Permanente locations are also putting a temporary stop to some procedures.

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The postponed procedures are mainly in the Sacramento Valley, although some San Jose residents are also affected. One woman at a San Jose Kaiser facility said her gallbladder surgery had been cancelled because of COVID-19.

“Given the impact of the coronavirus on health care systems, we have had site-specific cancellations for a limited number of elective procedures,” the health care giant said in a statement. “This action was taken to ensure that we continue to have the resources, capacity, and staff available to care for our members and the communities we serve.”

Across California, more than 9,000 people — a pandemic record — are hospitalized with confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases, including more than 1,000 in the Bay Area alone. Public health officials have warned that ill-advised holiday gatherings over Thanksgiving and Christmas will lead to more coronavirus hospitalizations and, ultimately, deaths.

As coronavirus surges, Bay Area hospitals begin postponing
elective surgeries. But this time it’s different 2SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 23: An ambulance outside of the emergency room at Regional Medical Center in San Jose, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

While all hospitals are keeping a close eye on coronavirus numbers, not all of them have chosen to scale back just yet.

“We are not cancelling or postponing any procedures at this time,” said UC San Francisco spokesperson Kristen Bole. “However, we are watching carefully to make sure we have the capacity to manage the current pandemic surge, while also meeting the needs of the other patients who depend on us for specialty care.”

Ultimately, that may mean moving patients around with the help of the California Emergency Medical Services Authority, the state’s hospital triage system. Since UCSF can provide more specialized care than some smaller hospitals, the hospital might move less-critical patients to other hospitals to make room for those who require more complicated treatment. Earlier in the pandemic, overwhelmed Imperial County along the Mexican border sent patients to UCSF and Stanford.

Stanford, too, is holding off on cancelling surgeries for now, spokesperson Julie Greicius said, and is “collaborating with other Santa Clara County hospitals daily to ensure that all patients have access to care.”

“Our hope is that we will not have to limit procedures, but if capacity requirements should surge due to COVID-19, we have a plan prepared to modify scheduling to accommodate higher inpatient volumes,” Greicius said. “At this time we have adequate resources to continue our normal operations.”

And hospitals are urging those who need care not to put off getting help.

In Contra Costa County, Walnut Creek-based John Muir Health has also not yet had to cancel or postpone surgeries.

“We have capacity to safely care for more COVID-19 patients and care for patients with scheduled or urgent surgeries/procedures, as well as other illnesses and injuries,” said spokesperson Ben Drew. “We urge patients not to delay seeking needed care, especially in emergency or urgent situations.”