Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an order Wednesday banning health care facilities ranging from dental offices to hospitals in New Mexico from performing “nonessential” surgeries and other procedures for the next three months except in cases in which a delay would put a patient’s health at risk.
The governor cited a dwindling supply of protective gear needed for first responders, nurses and doctors treating coronavirus patients.
“We’re going to do everything we can – everything – to protect those on the front line of this war against COVID-19,” Lujan Grisham said in announcing the order.
The sweeping order applies to hospitals, day-surgery centers, dental, orthodontic and other health care facilities.
It also requires health care providers and facilities to submit their policies on how to comply with the order to the Department of Health within three days and identify which procedures will be deemed essential and which nonessential. Providers were ordered to submit an inventory of their supplies to the state Department of Health.
The ban does not apply to emergency surgeries and other procedures if a delay would present a threat to a patient’s life; cause permanent damage to the patient; make a medical problem worse; or otherwise put patients at undue risk of permanent harm. It also does not apply to prenatal or postnatal care.
Dr. Jason Mitchell, Chief Medical Officer for Presbyterian Healthcare Services, said the governor’s decision to postpone all elective procedures “is in line with Presbyterian’s existing approach, and we fully support the decision.”
Mitchell said surgeries that have been delayed include bariatric procedures and total joint replacements.
“Postponing elective procedures will allow critical staff to be redeployed to other areas of our hospital and minimize the use of PPE,” he said.
A spokesman for University of New Mexico Hospital, Mark Rudi, said the hospital has started contacting patients to reschedule surgeries.
Oral surgeons and dentists have been telling patients that procedures are canceled, except in emergency cases.
John Cruickshank, CEO of Lovelace Medical Group, said “Lovelace Health System is following the governor’s new declaration and delaying elective type surgeries and procedures.”
“While some elective surgical cases can be postponed for a period of time, there are circumstances that require immediate and emergent attention.”
He said Lovelace is also following the American College of Surgeons recommendations on elective surgical procedures during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The order was not unexpected. The Department of Health had already issued guidelines suggesting that doctors, dentists and other health care providers delay elective surgeries.
While that was due in part to the threat of catching the virus, there have also been concerns about the stockpile of personal protective gear.
The state has received emergency protective gear from the Strategic National Stockpile, but only 25% of the supplies it requested.
The state said it received nearly 20,000 N95 masks, 47,000 face masks, 8,900 face shields, 7,326 gowns and 26,000 gloves as part of the federal Pandemic All Hazards Preparedness and Innovation Act, but Lujan Grisham said in a statement that the equipment that arrived was in poor condition.
She said the state is working to get more equipment from the federal government, but wants “to protect and judiciously use the resources we have now.”
A second order issued by the department prohibits health care providers and wholesale medical suppliers from selling or distributing personal protective equipment without prior state approval.
It does not ban the sale of protective gear, such as protective masks, to individuals, but does prohibit the sale of the equipment to out-of-state parties without the Department of Health’s approval.
Both orders include administrative civil penalties, including fines of up to $5,000 for each violation.
Journal reporter Colleen Heild contributed to this story.