NEWARK, NJ - Saint Michael's Medical Center announced that it is resuming elective surgeries and invasive procedures starting May 26.

Governor Phil Murphy forced hospitals to suspend elective surgeries when he signed Executive Order 109 on March 23 in an effort to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. On Friday,  the governor signed Executive Order 145 reversing the suspension and directing the state Health Department to issue guidelines for resuming elective surgeries.

Hospitals across the state have faced plummeting revenues and rising expenses during New Jersey’s COVID-19 crisis, which has had a severe impact on hospitals’ finances, with the statewide hospital operating margin plunging to negative 30 percent, according to a financial impact analysis from the New Jersey Hospital Association.

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The NJHA’s Center for Health Analytics, Research and Transformation surveyed the state’s acute care hospitals for fiscal impacts of the pandemic for March and April. The aggregated responses show that hospital revenues fell 32 percent – or $650 million monthly – largely due to the suspension of elective procedures. 

“COVID-19 is an unprecedented event for our healthcare system, and our hospitals have directed all of their resources at it, including extraordinary efforts to expand capacity that kept our state ahead of the curve,” said NJHA President and CEO Cathy Bennett. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t come without risk to hospitals’ own fiscal health.”

Dr. Claudia Komer, a chief medical officer at Saint Michael’s Medical Center, said definitive steps are underway to ensure the safe, effective restart of clinical care operations and procedures. The hospital, she said, is focused on addressing the needs of the community by resuming access to medical and surgical care.

“The hospital will be carefully monitoring the virus’s ongoing impact to the community and will maintain its ability to properly respond to the coronavirus as we begin providing patients with the essential care they need,” Dr. Komer said. “We want to assure our patients that we are implementing best practices and will do everything we can to keep them safe.”

A committee of physicians and other clinical leaders at Saint Michael’s has been meeting regularly to ensure safe resumption of essential health care services, including non-emergent surgeries and procedures.

Saint Michael’s patients will be screened and tested for COVID-19 48 to 72-hours prior to any surgery even if there are no signs or symptoms of the infection. Saint Michael’s has created special units for COVID-19, ensuring non COVID-19 patients remain separate. The hospital also has a transitional floor for admitted patients awaiting test results.

All of the hospital’s healthcare workforce will also be tested regularly to protect patients.

Surgery patients are allowed one visitor to the hospital to accompany them to the waiting area. All patients and visitors must pass through a hospital screening station upon entering the building.

Saint Michael’s Medical Center, which was purchased by California-based Prime Healthcare in 2016, recently was awarded an A in patient safety from the Leapfrog Group for the fourth period in a row and is a recipient of the Healthgrades Patient Safety Excellence Award.

Dr. Sonia Mehta, the Region II chief medical officer and corporate CEO for Prime Healthcare who is serving as interim CEO of Saint Michael’s, said patient safety remains the highest priority at all Prime hospitals and that supplies of personal protective equipment such as masks, gowns and gloves are more than adequate to treat both COVID-19 patients and those undergoing important elective procedures and surgeries.

“Resuming these important services is essential to our mission of providing quality, community healthcare,” Dr. Mehta said. “As a health system, Prime remains committed to conserving critical supplies, being vigilant in our fight against COVID-19 and its evolving impact, and ensuring that our facilities are safe places for all patients, providers and staff.”

In addition to Saint Michael’s, Prime Healthcare operates Saint Clare’s Health in Morris County and St. Mary’s General Hospital in Passaic in New Jersey.

The hospital’s Emergency Department remains open for all those seeking emergency care. Following physical distancing guidelines for COVID-19 does not mean ignoring the signs or symptoms of other medical emergencies.

“Those experiencing signs of a heart attack or stroke, for instance, such as difficulty breathing or sudden muscle weakness, should still call 911 or visit the emergency room immediately,” said Dr. Ramy Yakobi, the chair of Saint Michael’s Emergency Department.

“We are well prepared to handle non-COVID emergencies as well as able to deal with an influx of potential COVID-19 cases, and are following all state, local and federal guidelines to safeguard our staff and other patients from exposure.”