New York orthopedic society president critical of governor's 'nonessential' surgery limits

Alan Condon -  

John DiPreta, MD, president of the New York State Society of Orthopaedic Surgeons, has criticized Gov. Kathy Hochul's executive order limiting "nonessential" and "nonurgent" procedures in hospitals with capacity issues caused by COVID-19.

The new provisions, which took effect Dec. 3, aim to address the increasing staff shortages and capacity strain at New York hospitals, according to the governor's office. The state will re-evaluate the protocols based on the latest COVID-19 data Jan. 15.

Dr. DiPreta said in a statement issued by the society that although the plan is well-intentioned, the policy fails to consider three key factors.

"Primarily, it's important to challenge the notion that certain procedures are 'elective' — a term that often is misunderstood to indicate that such procedures are 'optional' and therefore not critically important to a patient's health and well-being," he said. "For many patients, orthopedic surgical procedures are essential interventions that resolve profound pain and debilitation that undermine both the physical and mental health of those who suffer."

The surgeon recalled the nonemergent surgery bans earlier in the pandemic that saw thousands of patients in New York delay or forgo treatment for orthopedic conditions. Delays in such treatment can lead to prolonged pain, medical deterioration and hinder patients' prognoses and treatment plans, he said.

"Secondarily, the order unintentionally sends an erroneous signal that accessing healthcare of any kind presents a danger to the patient," Dr. DiPreta said. "Providers have instituted broad and effective COVID-19 protocols that have resulted in demonstrably safe access to care."

The policy would most affect chronic disease patients, many of whom "stopped or limited their pursuit of care vital to their lives and livelihoods," he said. "That cost has yet to be fully measured or understood and should not be exacerbated."

Lastly, Dr. DiPreta argues that providers and hospitals should be the ultimate decision-makers when it comes to determining their patients' needs and the appropriate site of care.

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