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St. Louis Hospitals Cancel Procedures, Limit Visitors To Prepare For Coronavirus Patients

Mercy Hospital St. Louis
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
Mercy Hospital, as well as the two other major hospital systems in St. Louis, have announced new policies to help prohibit the spread of the new coronavirus.

Updated at 11:30 a.m. March 23 with the latest restrictions on hospital visitors

Mercy, SSM Health and BJC hospitals will delay elective medical procedures to make way for an expected surge in patients sickened by the new coronavirus.

Starting Monday, the hospital will cancel any procedures that can safely be deferred for eight weeks. The provision frees up staff, equipment and space for those with the virus who will need medical care and keeps medical personnel and patients safe.

“This measure is intended to ensure that only urgent or time-sensitive procedures are provided, to protect our caregivers and the communities we serve, and to conserve the resources needed for the COVID-19 health crisis,” SSM Health spokeswoman Sara Ward said.

Elective medical procedures include operations such as cataract removal surgery and knee replacements.

Health care resources such as staff and beds are limited on the best of days, said Dave Dillo, a spokesman for the Missouri Hospital Association.

“How we best manage that resource is really important, and the St. Louis community is doing a good job of trying to handle it in a very difficult situation," he said.

Hospital officials say patients with scheduled appointments should contact their doctor if they have questions about the status of a planned operation. 

Hospitals this week began restricting the number of people who can visit patients. The region’s health systems are barring visitors completely for most departments. 

Hospital officials say the policy reduces crowding and disease transmission. It also helps to conserve protective equipment such as face masks for hospital workers.

In a global crisis, every health care worker needs to be protected, Dillon said.

“A core component of our ability to deliver care is to have our caregivers healthy," he said.

BJC Healthcare put a “no-visitor” policy in place Monday, with some exceptions. Obstetrics, neonatal intensive care and emergency department patients will be allowed one visitor. Pediatric patients and patients who are dying can have two visitors.

SSM Health suspended visits in its hospitals in the St. Louis region, except for in pediatrics and in birthplace settings where limited visitors are allowed. Hospital staff may make exceptions for dying patients.

Mercy officials have put in place similar visitor restrictions. Starting Monday no visitors are allowed in hospitals except for one visitor per obstetric patient and patients in urgent procedure and two visitors per patients in neonatal intensive care units and pediatric departments. Mery also may allow visitors to visit dying patients.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

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Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.