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Local hospitals begin non-emergency surgeries again

Rochester’s two health systems are beginning non-emergency surgeries again this week after Gov. Andrew Cuomo identified Monroe County as one the 35 counties that can start easing pandemic restrictions on its hospital activities. 

Such surgeries were on hold for the last several weeks to allow hospitals the capacity to devote to a surge of COVID-19 cases, which can be medically intense. 

“Our community has successfully flattened the curve and the risk of a dramatic surge … is low,” said Michael Apostolakos M.D., chief medical officer for the University of Rochester Medical Center. He was joined by the chief medical officer of Rochester Regional Health, Robert Mayo M.D., in a video conference about the change. 

The lifting of restrictions “means families can resume getting the care that they need,” Apostolakos said. “Non-COVID illness is increasing as people have not gotten some of the care that they need.”

Originally, the state had said routine surgeries could not continue unless COVID-19 cases had dropped to fewer than 10 admissions in 10 days. That threshold has not been reached locally, but earlier this week the state changed the threshold to allow areas where COVID-19 is less prevalent to open up again. 

“That was a thoughtful and helpful change,” said Mayo, noting that the previous threshold hadn’t accounted for population density or a stable COVID situation. Rochester appears to have landed on a plateau.

“Because Monroe County has done such a noteworthy job in flattening the curve, (the state) felt it was not as applicable to us, and we’re pleased that the criteria charged,” Mayo said.

Apostolakos noted that the change applies to all hospitals within the two health systems, not just those in Monroe County. The University of Rochester system includes the medical center, Highland Hospital, Thompson Hospital in Canandaigua, Noyes Hospital in Dansville, Livingston County, St. James Hospital in Hornell and Jones Memorial Hospital in Wellsville, Allegany County. RRH hospitals include Rochester General Hospital, Unity Hospital in Greece, Newark-Wayne Community Hospital in Wayne County, Clifton Springs Hospital and Clinic in Ontario County and United Memorial Medical Center in Batavia.

Apostolakos said “We’ll start with the most urgent procedures and move on from there,” adding it could take several months to work through the backlog created by the last several months.

The hospitals will remain vigilant about precautions such as universal masking, social distancing and extra cleaning. 

Mayo said, “We want to open as much capacity as possible, as quickly as possible and as safely as possible.”

In the meantime, the medical chiefs said, the hospitals will maintain some capacity in reserve for a potential resurgence of COVID-19 cases and could ramp up emergency restrictions again quickly if needed.  

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