Woman’s cancer surgery may be delayed due to COVID overload at hospitals

Coronavirus

TROY, Mo (KTVI) – Two of St. Louis’ biggest hospital systems are postponing and rescheduling elective procedures as COVID cases in the area soar. Both BJC Healthcare and SSM Health made the decision Wednesday, which affects close to 40 hospitals in the area. 

The decision leaves one woman wondering when she’ll be able to have cancer surgery.

Scott Mueller said his wife April was diagnosed with appendix and colon cancer in December of 2021. She was supposed to have a colonoscopy and colon surgery in a couple of weeks at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Peters, part of the BJC Healthcare system. Mueller got the news Wednesday that both procedures would likely be postponed.

“It’s really hard when you don’t know what the next step is going to be,” Mueller said. “They said less than a 10% chance that her surgery would happen. You’re dealing with that, and it’s just difficult. You can’t schedule anything. You can’t plan. It’s just really rough.”

Mueller says he and his wife are now traveling all the way to Rochester, Minnesota, to seek treatment at the Mayo Clinic.

“We will have all that extra travel and expense. We can manage. It’s not fun but we’re going to get it done,” Mueller said. “But there are some folks [for whom] it wouldn’t be an option, and I really feel for them.”

The hospital’s task force says it’s still unclear how long elective procedures will be postponed. It will depend on monitoring the peak of case rates, which could take at least a month, if not longer.

BJC Healthcare announced Wednesday it would postpone all elective procedures starting Thursday, January 6th, until further notice. BJC said it expects an influx of about 220 agency nurses in the next two weeks, and says postponing elective surgeries will provide some staffing relief as those individuals are reassigned elsewhere.

SSM Health also announced it would be rescheduling elective procedures on a case-by-case basis.
“The crush is happening in our community. The inn is full, there’s no safe harbor,” said Dr. Clay Dunagan, BJC Healthcare’s Chief Clinical Officer. 

Dunagan is also part of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. The task force held a briefing Wednesday, saying the postponement of elective procedures is largely due to the 1,100-plus COVID patients overloading the hospital systems.

“So, we know that the surge from COVID means there’s going to be more people suffering from heart attacks and strokes and cancer cases that could’ve been treated earlier or even prevented,” explained Dr. Alex Garza, SSM’s Chief Community Health Officer.

Mueller, however, said he doesn’t blame the healthcare workers at BJC. 

“I have to give credit to the staff and nurses. They were great and they were just as upset as I was. They have zero control over this,” Mueller said.

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