Rome, NY - All hospitals, healthcare and surgical centers have to come together and share beds, ventilators, PPE equipment and staff to fight the coronavirus, halting all elective surgeries and screenings. Now that coronavirus hospitalization numbers are decreasing, on Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that 35 counties, including Oneida County met the requirements for resuming elective surgeries. Which was great news for Griffiss Surgery Center.
Until the next morning when everything changed. The state clarified that only surgery centers that operated under the license of a hospital can perform these surgeries.
That was a pretty painful discovery,” says Dr. Patrick Costello, Ophthalmologist and Medical Director at Griffiss Surgery Center. “We feel it was sort of arbitrary. If they feel that it's OK to proceed what's different between our Ambulatory Surgery Center and a hospital? And how many patients is this affecting? It’s thousands.”
More than 70% of elective procedures are done in surgery centers and endoscopy centers. Griffiss perfoms about 40 to 70 surgeries per day and is the only eye surgery facility in the region.
The state says that they are going to reevaluate on May 29 and Dr. Costello emphasizes that pushing back these surgeries can be catastrophic, like vision accidents and issues leading to pain progression and opioid addiction.
“These are medically necessary procedures. They are called elective because they're not emergent to save a life limb or organ but they're absolutely medically necessary procedures. So this is pretty devastating to the patients and the families and they can create a lot of comorbidities, other diseases and certainly progression of the disease they are waiting to have fixed,” adds Costello.
Costello and his colleagues have been receiving phone calls from patients out of concern for their medical issues. He says some patients are suicidal and extremely emotional about their situation. They are performing telemedicine treatments but it is important for them to see their patients in person.
The surgery center is currently only treating emergency cases, and is taking the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus like having patients wait in their cars instead of in the waiting room and taking their temperatures as they come in.
“There’s a whole bevy of things that we’re doing to avoid spreading the disease within the center. But most importantly we’re testing them for active infection before they come in a day ahead of time. I'm hoping that at the state level they kind of rethink that decision and they let us get these patients in who are really desperate,” says Costello.
From a financial perspective the center has 54 full time employees that were laid off. These employees were hired back with some PPE money that the center was able to secure. But even after they begin to operate again, it typically it takes 3 to 5 weeks to receive revenue for procedures (by Medicaid or Medicare) which is a long wait time for staff to be paid.
He references the economic detriment that local restaurants and small businesses are going through when speaking about his staff's financial situation.
“Will our employees lose their homes? Will they be able to feed their kids like they normally do? Things like that. That’s pretty devastating and that’s something that we share with everybody in society,” says Costello.
Dr. Costello has spoken out to Senator Joe Griffo and expressed their desires to reopen the center. He is grateful to have Griffo pass along his message to the state and hopeful that they will look at it soon.
In addition to Griffiss Surgery Center, this includes APEX Surgery Center in Westmoreland, Omni Surgery Center in New Hartford and Mohawk Valley Endoscopy Center.