NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - For weeks, hospital emergency rooms have been busy with COVID-19 patients while other parts of the hospital were empty.
"Our wards, our emergency rooms, our operating rooms have been emptied beyond what you would expect from cancelling purely optional procedures," said Clinical Operations President for LCMC Health John Heaton, M.D.
Now, the state health department is allowing doctors to perform non-emergency medical and surgical procedures again.
Heaton says LCMC is starting slow, across the system doctors will perform 50 surgeries today. The focus is keeping patients healthy.
"For every patient coming in for procedure, we are going beyond the governor's order,” Heaton said. “[We are] actually testing each of these patients as well as doing a careful symptoms screen to make sure somebody is not brewing a case of COVID-19 and is brought into our preoperative area."
Tulane Health is taking similar precautions. It is limiting and screening all visitors by giving rapid COVID-19 tests. People will need to maintain social distance in waiting areas. These rooms will look different. Officials will remove all “high-touch items such as magazines and toys.”
"What I fear is that it's going to overwhelm healthcare," said Chad Domangue, M.D. managing member at Cypress Pointe Hospital in Hammond.
He thinks now that people can get certain procedures done, it opens up the floodgates for those who canceled previous appointments.
"There's going to be a line and there's going to be a wait,” he said. “There's going to be hospitals that are not going to be able to deal with their issues immediately."
"I think there's going to be a lot of pent up demand for this as people become more comfortable with the new normal because we will probably be dealing with some level of COVID-19 patients for months,” said Heaton. “Many months. And you just can't defer all of your medical care."
Heaton says he has noticed a considerable drop in patients showing up to the hospital with heart attacks, “Which is kind of frightening because I doubt there’s been an outbreak of health with COVID-19. By the same token there’s less people coming in for other reasons”
He says he thinks patients are delaying all hospital visits because they fear contracting COVID-19.
“We can do a lot by tele-medicine and we’ve grown our capability in leaps and bounds during this pandemic but that said sometimes there isn’t a substitution for a doctor laying hands on a patient.”
He says there is a backlog of procedures throughout the system.
“For instance, one of our breast surgeons has a number of breast biopsies and other procedures lined up to do. I know our orthopedic docs have a number of surgeries to do,” said Heaton.