Northam to 15,000 Sick Virginians: Keep Waiting

Bend over. This’ll only take two weeks.

by James A. Bacon

Here’s how I was tempted to headline this post:

Northam to Sick Virginians: Drop Dead

But that would have been unfair. In extending his ban on elective surgery by a weeks, the Governor doesn’t want people to literally drop dead. He’s just willing to prolong their misery and uncertainty. Not to mention the misery and uncertainty of thousands of Virginia healthcare workers laid off because of the ban. And the financial hardship of hospitals who are hemorrhaging cash due to the loss of business.

Of all of Northam’s errors of commission and omission in the battle against the COVID-19 epidemic, this is the most egregious. His justification for the prohibition, announced yesterday, flies in the face of reality. In his executive order and public statements, he cites the need to conserve hospital beds and the personal protective equipment used to safeguard healthcare practitioners treating COVID-19 patients. Yet his statements are directly contradicted by a letter that the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association provided the Governor in a letter six days ago and released publicly yesterday.

From his press release:

My top priority is protecting public health, and that includes ensuring that our frontline medical staff have the equipment they need to stay safe as they treat Virginians who are sick.

We have increased our supply of PPE, but before we allow elective surgeries to resume, we must first be assured that the doctors, nurses, and medical staff who are fighting this virus or conducting emergency surgeries have the necessary supplies. We are working with medical facilities on plans to ensure that we can resume elective surgeries safely and responsibly.

Has Northam been breathing too much laughing gas? The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals has stabilized. Hospital beds are not in short supply. As of April 18, according to VHHA President Sean Connaughton, Virginia hospitals were treating 1,301 COVID-19 patients. They had 5,327 beds available. Hospitals also had 2,264 ventilators collecting dust. 

Although protective gear is in somewhat short supply, the ban on elective surgery will do almost nothing to alleviate it. As the hospital association said in a document outlining the path ahead, the personal protective equipment used to treat protective disease patients is not the same as the equipment used in elective surgery! “The supply chain for most standard PPE for surgery has not been impacted to a significant degree due to COVID-19. Health care professionals performing surgeries have supplies to safely care for patients.”

The Northam administration’s inability to grasp this fact is extraordinary. Do Virginia’s public health officials have a clue about what is going on? No wonder Northam needed to hire the McKinsey consulting firm to acquire more equipment.

Meanwhile, Virginia hospitals are delaying roughly 15,000 elective surgeries a week. Northam’s delay directly impacts 15,000 patients… not to mention 30,000 health care workers now collecting unemployment and hospitals bleeding out cash.

Northam offers this howler of a statement: “We are working with medical facilities on plans to ensure that we can resume elective surgeries safely and responsibly.”

Working with whom? Not the VHHA, the trade association representing the state’s hospitals. The VHHA has offered his own “Framework for Reopening Virginia’s Hospitals,” which bears no resemblance to Northam’s action.

I find myself baffled by the Governor’s decision. I grope to discern even a political motive behind the move. I can find only two explanations: (1) for reasons unknown, he is willfully ignoring the data presented by the VHHA, or (2) his administration is so dysfunctional that the data is not filtering through to the Governor. Whatever the case, Northam’s action yesterday does not bode well for his willingness to relax the shutdown in other areas. This shutdown is going to be long and ugly.

Update: According to data just released by the Virginia Employment Commission, more than 30,000 healthcare workers have been furloughed or laid off, reports the Virginia Mercury. I have updated this post to incorporate that number.

Update: The original post incorrectly stated that Northam’s executive order imposed a two-week delay on elective procedures. I have updated the post to reflect accurate information.

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25 responses to “Northam to 15,000 Sick Virginians: Keep Waiting”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Translation: We in state government do not trust you, the hospitals, to act in the best interests of your patients/customers. Even though you face all those med mal risks, not us. You say you are ready, we insist you prove it to us. This also tells me that opening up parts of the economy (today the hospitals, perhaps DVM May 11) will make it harder to told the line against the rest. Which is quite true.

    But you, Jim, are not facing honestly the RISING number of COVID hospitalizations. Not steady, not dropping, but still a slow rise…..VHHA count also up today. It reports 1399 (known and suspected) and it was 100 fewer just two or three days ago.

  2. James Wyatt Whitehead V Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead V

    According to the Governor of Virginia Protocols, we cannot address Mr. Northam as we please. We can refer to him as “The Honorable, Ralph Northam, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia”. On occasion it is permitted to use: “His Excellency, Ralph Northam, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia”. This remains true for the next 631 days.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      Of course, protocol also requires that members of the General Assembly be addressed as “The Honorable”…..

      1. Steve Haner Avatar
        Steve Haner

        Known in legal parlance as a rebuttable presumption.

        1. You got the butt part of that right.

  3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    It is hard to justify not lifting the ban on elective surgeries. However, May 1 is just a week away. The fact that Northam extended the ban for only a week indicates to me that he is on the verge of lifting it, but wants to wait just a little bit longer to see whether the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations increase appreciably. He strikes me as being naturally cautious and deliberative.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Maybe Northam did learn something from his earlier bad decisions.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      Yes.. he’s close to lifting it but that’s not good enough.. and instead it means “drop dead”.

      Can anyone REALLY believe this narrative?

      what is with you guys?

      one week and it’s “drop dead”… geeze

      come on Crazy.. weigh in on this…

  4. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    “Here’s how I was tempted to headline this post:

    Northam to Sick Virginians: Drop Dead

    But that would have been unfair.”

    No, that’s what would happen if they contract it while in the hospital or convalescing at home. Wonder how many of these elective surgeries are on fit people in good health, breast augmentations excepted.

    Almost everyone I know who had hip and knee replacements in their 60s, for example, were overweight, to be polite.

    Now, to be sure, some elective surgeries can be life-saving. After breaking my nose, I had it corrected after my spouse put a pillow over my face and said, “Fix it or next time I don’t stop!”

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Don’t tell Larry about overweight people. They are victims of something or other and a reason for more government spending. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

      Seriously, obesity is a very serious problem that leads to lots of other problems.

      1. Well someone tell Larry that I eat more calories than I expend, I have a weakness for certain donuts, and I’m fat. I could be losing weight but with a physical issue w/the leg (not obesity related) can only walk a short distance, etc. so I have to wait until the gyms open up to swim, my exercise.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          I eat too much also.. it’s a never-ending battle of which pisses me off almost every day.

          I just point out – again – that some folks with money and access to good health care end up far better off with issues like obesity than those who do not have wealth and do not have access to good health care.

          My doctor, by the way, whom I see every 4 months refuses to prescribe anything for my sorry BMI – he says that I know the damage being done and it’s my responsibility… and so I do walk every day to keep my legs and hips and other moving parts – moving.

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Should we all inject Lysol?

    1. Ethyl alcohol is just as good a disinfectant — with benefits.

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    And I don’t see any updates

  7. LGABRIEL Avatar

    I just got an email from NARAL (yes I’m on their email list) to the effect that we should all chip in to help people from Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky and other states continue to come to Virginia for elective abortions. I have seen no discussion about how this affects PPE. Or don’t abortionists use PPE? Don’t know since there is no oversight now. Any concerns about how these “patients” are travelling to Virginia? Hard to see whether by plane, car, bus or train that they are following “social distancing” rules. Has anyone in the press asked the Governor about a pretty blatant contradiction?

  8. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Inova Health to Lay Off More Than 400 Employees

    Hospitals are on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus, but they’re still facing serious financial challenges. Inova Health System in Virginia is the latest to be impacted, and has announced it will lay off 427 employees amid growing demand for more resources to treat the coronavirus.

    The announcement was made Tuesday. Most of the jobs being cut are described as nonclinical management positions. Hospital CEO, Dr. Stephen Jones, tells WTOP’s news partners at NBC Washington that the decision was a painful but necessary one as demand increases. ‘Every decision will be made toward us being able to provide care for patients, so no one should be worried about us not having the people there to take care of you,’ he said.
    Some senior executives have also seen salary cuts.

    The interim funding bill for coronavirus relief will provide financial help for hospitals, but it’s unclear whether it will help prevent future layoffs.”

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Recall several years ago, with great fanfare, then Virginia Governor Mcauliffe armed with a very large check written on taxpayers handed over millions of dollars to jump start a new partnership between Uva. and Inova, for a world class, cutting edge medical research center to occupy on “old” Exxon site on Capital Beltway in Fairfax.

      How is that project between Inova and Uva in Fairfax County going?

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        I don’t know how exactly the research part is going but Inova’s rezoning requests were approved last year. With the caveat that I don’t trust anyone’s traffic projections, the plans that were approved seemed reasonable.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      If we are going to ramp up testing and contact tracing as stated in yesterdays press conference, there will be a need for a lot of people to do that work.

  9. […] patients because the personal protective equipment used to treat coronavirus patients is not the same as the equipment used in elective […]

  10. […] patients because the personal protective equipment used to treat coronavirus patients is not the same as the equipment used in elective […]

  11. […] patients because the personal protective equipment used to treat coronavirus patients is not the same as the equipment used in elective […]

  12. […] patients because the personal protective equipment used to treat coronavirus patients is not the same as the equipment used in elective […]

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