Blount Memorial Hospital resumed elective surgeries on Friday, May 1, through a “safe, phased approach” outlined by Gov. Bill Lee and the Tennessee Hospital Association.

“As part of the work we’ve been doing all along to ensure our hospital is prepared for COVID-19 in our community, we examined what safely restarting our surgery services would look like when the time came,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Harold Naramore said in a press release. “We wanted to be working toward the possibility of resuming elective procedures for our patients and our community.”

Teams of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and pharmacy and supply chain staff worked to ensure the hospital was ready for surgery and that adequate supplies were available.

“We knew one thing we wanted to do was to require every patient who would be undergoing surgery or procedures like colonoscopies or upper endoscopies to have a COVID-19 test prior to the procedure date,” Naramore said. “To date, we have had no pre-surgical patient return a positive COVID-19 result.”

Elective outpatient surgeries and procedures began at 7 a.m. on Friday, May 1, but because of the volume of patients, surgery continued on Saturday and Sunday.

“In the first weekend, we completed 203 total procedures. We did 59 scopes in our endoscopy/GI lab, 43 in the hospital’s main operating room and 101 at the outpatient surgery center,” Naramore said.

He said the hospital plans on resuming inpatient surgeries on Monday, May 11.

“We are taking precautions every step of the way, and I feel our patients are as safe at the hospital as they are anywhere,” general surgeon Dr. Stephen Pacifico said. “It is likely that they have less chance of exposure at the hospital than they do anywhere else in the community.”

Pacifico said if a patient isn’t ready to resume surgical plans right now, and if their case can be delayed without alarm, the physicians will remain in contact with the surgical candidates to make sure that they experience no significant health changes.

“Patients may adversely affect the outcome of their disease process by delaying a case that can be safely performed,” he said.

Similarly, gastroenterologist Dr. William Lyles has stayed in communication with his patients who were not able to have their scheduled procedures — assuring them it is safe to have procedures done at the hospital now that this service has resumed.

“I’ve assured them it’s very safe, and that it’s riskier to delay procedures. In fact, the risk of delaying procedures — including missing malignant disease (cancer) and other diseases — that would be more amendable to treatment at the earliest time could be a very tragic event,” he said.

Both Pacifico and Lyles agree that the special precautions the hospital has taken, as well as its attention to safety, throughout the COVID-19 response have been appropriate.

“We have been out in front of this since the beginning. We discuss patient-wide recommendations, and we also monitor what’s going on here locally and at the national level, and we take these things into account with our decision-making process.” Pacifico said. “We are doing everything we can to protect ourselves and our community.”

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