Photo courtesy of MGN
By Sofia Mendes
The recent omicron surge is impacting American health care more than ever and not just due to an increase in COVID-19 cases. Delays in medical care because of the increase in omicron cases have led to overcrowded hospitals and life-threatening complications.
Dr. Matt Beecroft, of the Seattle emergency department, shared his story of a patient who had a heart attack after her cardiac bypass procedure had been canceled with other doctors only to realize that his story was not an isolated event.
When the omicron variant hit the US last month, hospitals across the country began pausing “elective” procedures – a term that describes procedures that can be scheduled but is often misunderstood to mean that the surgery is optional. The omicron surge has backed up the health care system leaving little room for patients coming into the emergency room with non-covid related issues or patients who need hospital stays after surgeries.
This health care backup has even reached surgeon offices. Sam Durrani, a surgeon in Arizona, has had multiple patients experience complications due to the lack of hospital space. One who was waiting out the surge for gallbladder surgery came down with an infection while waiting and another whose surgery was delayed had a paraesophageal hernia in which blood flow couldn’t reach the patient’s stomach.
Cancer patients cause other concerns as well. Chemotherapy treatments and tumor removal operations have been postponed and cancer patients are showing up to emergency rooms much sicker than when doctors would typically see them as they are reluctant to go to the hospital in the first place due to increased chances of catching COVID-19.
The consequences of the omicron surge in the US are dire and doctors are continuing to play a guessing game in terms of how long an elective surgery can be put off before it becomes an emergency condition. The same can be said for cancer patients who are lowering their chances of recovery by not being able to go into hospitals for treatment until their in critical condition. While omicron cases are now falling, pressure on hospitals remains as many have lists of hundreds of people who have had care delayed in the past month.