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COVID-overwhelmed hospitals postpone cancer care and other treatment

Erik Neumann, Jefferson Public Radio, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Callagan said his bone marrow transplant has not yet been rescheduled.

Such delays can have consequences, according to Dr. Mujahid Rizvi, who leads the oncology clinic handling Callagan’s care.

“With cancer treatment, sometimes there’s a window of opportunity where you can go in and potentially cure the patient,” Rizvi said. “If you wait too long, the cancer can spread. And that can affect prognosis and can make a potentially curable disease incurable.”

Such high stakes for delaying treatment at hospitals right now extends beyond cancer care.

“I’ve seen patients get ready to have their open-heart surgery that day. I’ve seen patients have brain tumor with visual changes, or someone with lung cancer, and their procedures are canceled that day and they have to come back another day,” said Dr. Kent Dauterman, a cardiologist and co-director of the regional cardiac center in Medford, Oregon. “You always hope they come back.”

In early September, Dauterman said, the local hospital had 28 patients who were waiting for open-heart surgery, 24 who needed pacemakers, and 22 who were awaiting lung surgeries. During normal times, he said, there is no wait.

 

“I don’t want to be dramatic — it’s just there’s plenty of other things killing Oregonians before this,” Dauterman said.

Right now, the vast majority of patients in Oregon hospitals with COVID are unvaccinated, about five times as many as those who got the vaccine, according to the Oregon Health Authority. COVID infections are starting to decline from the peak of the delta wave. But even in non-pandemic times, there’s not a lot of extra room in Oregon’s health care system.

“If you look at the number of hospital beds per capita, Oregon has 1.7 hospital beds per thousand population. That’s the lowest in the country,” said Becky Hultberg, CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.

A new study focused on curtailing nonemergency procedures looked back at how Veterans Health Administration hospitals did during the first pandemic wave. It found that the VA health system was able to reduce elective treatments by 91%.

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