State gradually easing restrictions on elective medical procedures

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb will gradually lift restrictions on elective procedures at hospitals and clinics across the state, he announced Monday during a virtual Statehouse briefing.

Beginning Tuesday, hospitals will be permitted to diagnose and treat non-emergency medical conditions.

The provisions will be expanded to other clinics and practices on April 27 if the state has sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for front line medical workers battling COVID-19, the governor said.

He had previously directed all health care providers at hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, dental facilities, plastic surgery centers, dermatology offices and other facilities to cancel or postpone any surgery or invasive procedure “which can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of the patient as determined by the treating provider,” according to an executive order effective April 1.

“We will be opening up the elective procedures front in a staged way,” Holcomb said during Monday’s press conference. “And I want to underscore ‘staged way,’ so it’s not all at once.”

He encouraged hospitals to resume performing procedures including cancer and cardiac screenings, upper and lower endoscopies, pain management procedures and pulmonary treatment not related to COVID-19.

Future restrictions on medical procedures will be reevaluated every seven days, Holcomb added.

Health officials will continue monitoring the state’s supply inventory of masks, gloves, gowns and other protective gear alongside Indiana Hospital Association members.

However, even as the state takes steps toward lifting pandemic restrictions, some Hoosiers struggle to access treatment that cannot be delayed without potential health consequences.

Not all elective procedures are optional, according to doctors.

Bill Nelson, an Anderson resident who undergoes regular treatment for an eye condition, said Monday’s announcement gave him “hope” but he worried about delaying his next procedure.

He was diagnosed in April 2018 with retinal vein occlusion, a blockage of the small veins that carry blood away from the retina.

“It’s like ‘having a stroke in that eye,’” Nelson said, quoting his ophthalmologist. “When that vein swells and leaks blood, then your vision goes dark. And if it’s untreated, you could have loss of sight in that eye.”

He receives injections of medication to control vein swelling approximately every seven weeks. He often knew it was time for an appointment when his vision began to blur, he said.

Nelson was treated March 3. His next appointment, initially scheduled for April 21, was postponed to June 9 due to COVID-19 concerns.

“There’s no way that I think I could go that long without losing vision,” he said. “COVID-19 is of the utmost importance at this time; I understand that. But there [are] people that have problems, that have to be addressed, and they have to get the treatment they need for other things or they’re going to suffer the consequences.”

He made multiple attempts to book an earlier appointment but could not reach his doctor or the doctor’s assistant, he said.

His concerns ranged from completely losing vision in the affected eye to regressing in his treatment plan; each injection cost approximately $2,500, according to Nelson.

The clinic did not immediately respond to calls and emails from News 8.

Health care providers have the authority to determine which procedures can be delayed under the governor’s executive order.