Any Massachusetts hospital or hospital system facing limited capacity to care for patients will be required to reduce non-essential, non-urgent scheduled procedures beginning Monday under an emergency order announced Tuesday by Gov. Charlie Baker.
The goal of the order is to protect patients and the healthcare workforce — and ensure capacity for immediate healthcare needs — in response to a range of challenges putting pressure on the state’s hospitals.
The guidance, developed by the administration and the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, was based on several factors including what officials described as critical staff shortages stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
This staffing shortage has contributed to the loss of approximately 500 medical/surgical and ICU hospital beds across the state. Other factors putting pressure on hospitals include the annual increases in hospitalization commonly seen during the period post-Thanksgiving through January.
“The current strain on hospital capacity is due to longer than average hospital stays and significant workforce shortages, separate and apart from the challenges brought on by COVID,” Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said in a press release.
The Department of Public Health defines non-essential, non-urgent scheduled procedures as procedures that are not medical emergencies.
Steve Walsh, CEO of the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, said part of the problem is that hospitals are seeing an influx of patients who postponed care because of the pandemic.
That has led to hospitals facing unprecedented capacity pressures, according to Kevin Tabb, MD, CEO of Beth Israel Lahey Health.
“Although COVID-related hospitalizations are far from what they were at their peak, we are now caring for an unusually high number of patients with other health problems,” Tabb said.
The number of new daily cases of COVID-19 increased by more than 2,600 on Tuesday while the number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by 24.
There were nearly 740 people reported hospitalized Tuesday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with about 150 in intensive care units.