Texas governor asks hospitals to delay elective procedures amid COVID surge

A road sign reading "Welcome to Texas"
Major surges of COVID-19 have prompted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to ask hospitals to voluntarily postpone elective procedures. (miroslav_1/Getty)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is calling on the state’s hospitals to voluntarily postpone or cancel elective procedures and surgeries as COVID-19 cases reach high levels.

Abbott, a Republican, wrote in a letter to the Texas Hospital Association Monday that he could issue an order to require hospitals to postpone the procedures but wants to potentially avoid that if possible. He is also asking for health staffing help from outside of the state to handle the surge of cases.

“Although tools remain available to the state of Texas, we should always aim to achieve the least restrictive means of combatting this evolving threat to public health,” the letter said.

Like many other state leaders, Abbott issued an order last year to postpone elective procedures in a bid to preserve capacity to fight the virus. The temporary shutdown of procedures causes hospital volumes to precipitously plummet across the country.

Abbott signed into law legislation that empowers the Texas Medical Board to implement temporary delays on elective procedures during a disaster. But by taking a voluntary measure, Abbott said “hospitals can avoid the need for an order from [Texas Medical Board].”

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Hospitals could also refer some of their COVID-19 patients to infusion sites and free up hospital beds for more serious cases, his letter said.

Abbott called for state agencies to open additional COVID-19 antibody infusion centers across the state.

Texas will also be using staffing agencies to help provide medical personnel from out of state to assist the local hospitals.

The request comes as COVID-19 cases have soared in the state thanks to the highly transmissible delta variant.

Texas has a seven-day average of 14,149 as of Aug. 9, a major increase from the seven-day average of 1,710 back on July 9, according to data from The New York Times.

The Texas Tribune also reported Tuesday that dozens of hospitals across the state are running out of intensive care unit beds.

The Texas Hospital Association applauded Abbott’s move to reengage in COVID-19 staffing.

“This help could not come fast enough,” said Ted Shaw, the association’s president and CEO. “Many hospitals have already idled non-essential services and are diverting patients to extend staffing capability. We look forward to a swift influx of out-of-state personnel, coordinated by the state through staffing agencies.”

The additional help can also replenish hospitals that have lost staff due to burnout or illness, the association added.

It remains unclear how hospitals could be impacted financially by another prolonged absence of revenue from elective procedures. Hospitals not only faced declines in elective surgeries but also plummeting outpatient volumes, both of which rebounded earlier this year after winter COVID-19 surges.

Hospitals were also buoyed by a $178 billion Provider Relief Fund that helped offset the major revenue declines, but it remains in doubt whether Congress will deliver another infusion of funding despite calls from hospital lobbies.