Elective procedures have come to a halt because of the coronavirus and some healthcare workers are getting laid off

FILE PHOTO: A surgery nurse puts on gloves before procedures on a patient with MRSA (Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) in the operating theatre of the Unfallkrankenhaus Berlin (UKB) hospital in Berlin February 29, 2008.  REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

  • Minnesota Gov. Tim Waltz ordered a temporary stop to elective surgeries, non-urgent procedures such as hip replacements and cataract surgeries, in his state starting on Monday.
  • Waltz's executive order comes after organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) and American College of Surgeons (ACS) recommended that hospitals and surgery centers stop elective procedures in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 and conserve personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.
  • Surgery clinics, which depend heavily on elective surgeries to bring in revenue, have laid off workers in response, leaving some healthcare workers without pay or benefits.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Elective surgeries, or non-urgent procedures such as hip replacements and cataract surgeries, have been put on hold in many places across the US, as the healthcare system focuses on coronavirus.

The pause helps prevent patients and healthcare workers from being exposed to the virus. It also helps conserve hospital space and personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, especially in areas experiencing serious shortages.

While it's not universal, organizations like the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS), American College of Surgeons (ACS), and Ambulatory Surgery Center Association (ASCA) have all recommended a suspension of elective procedures, and many states have enacted orders requiring it.

Minnesota shows how the move to halt procedures is playing out in an area where cases are growing, but still low. The state has reported about 262 cases of the coronavirus. Last week, Minnesota Gov. Tim Waltz issued an executive order putting a temporary stop to elective surgeries, which went into effect on Monday.

Minnesota has ordered all elective surgeries temporarily canceled

The order forced clinics to cancel many of their operations, and several surgery clinics across the state have already laid off staff with no guarantee of rehiring after the current situation is over.

Business Insider talked to half a dozen contract and full-time healthcare workers across three surgery clinics in Minnesota who have been laid off as of last week.

A memo from a Minnesota-based surgery center reviewed by Business Insider said that as a result of "experiencing a significant downturn in business due to the Coronavirus pandemic," employees would be placed on an unpaid leave of absence that would last until at least the end of April, after which there will be no guarantee of any or the same position the employee had before the layoffs.

A spokesperson for the national group ASCA said surgery centers, also called ASCs, were working to follow the rules.

"ASCs are following guidance from federal and state authorities to cease elective procedures and only perform necessary surgeries, which, in most cases, precludes them from generating sufficient revenue to maintain operations and pay staff," ASCA told Business Insider in a written statement. "Accordingly, more surgery centers are suspending operations every day, even though these facilities will be desperately needed when hospitals exceed capacity with COVID-19 patients."

Healthcare workers told Business Insider that before the layoffs happened, there was immense concern among staff over continuing elective procedures because of the increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 for both patients and healthcare workers and shortages of personal protective equipment across the US.

'Really strange, scary times right now.'

Others recounted instances where they felt unsafe operating but were encouraged to do so by management who disregarded their concerns. One worker told Business Insider that they thought their surgery center should have shut down elective procedures much sooner.

"I just feel like we could have taken measures much sooner than we did but it's all about money," said one healthcare worker at a Minnesota-based surgery clinic. She was recently told by management at her surgery clinic that she has a choice staying on rotation, which would guarantee her half of her usual hours, or a voluntary furlough with the ability to apply for unemployment.

"They say they want to hang on to the staff they have, but I'm not clear how that will play out. It's all very uncertain," she said. "Really strange, scary times right now."

Another told Business Insider that in the few days before Waltz's executive order went into effect, the clinic she worked at "ran full rooms," with operations scheduled throughout the whole day, before furloughing staff members at the end of the week without paid leave.

The clinic told her and other staff that after the executive order is lifted, workers would potentially go back to their pre-COVID employment statuses, "but nothing is guaranteed they said."

Do you work in healthcare? Business Insider would like to hear what you're seeing on the front lines of the coronavirus response. Email the author at ylee@businessinsider.com.

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