COLUMBUS — Ohio’s doctors and surgeons have one week to tell the governor what steps they would take to protect patients and conserve personal protective equipment if he lifts the order banning elective surgeries.
Gov. Mike DeWine said he talked for about two hours Wednesday morning with medical professionals worried about patients who can’t get help because of the state restriction. He told the group to give him a plan that would still minimize the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
And doctors say that can’t happen soon enough because their patients and businesses are suffering.
“Frankly, I’ve been financially devastated. My revenues at the office are down about 78%,” Dr. Steve Tornik, a family physician from Plain City, said during a legislative task force meeting. “Bottom line, we’ve got to get back to normal as soon as we can.”
Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton halted non-essential surgeries and medical procedures during the coronavirus crisis on March 18. The concern was not that medical officers were unsafe, but that regular use of them might deplete the state’s supply of PPE and surgical centers might be needed to house COVID-19 patients.
Neither of those things have happened, Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, said. That’s why he and a growing number of state lawmakers want the restrictions on health care providers lifted as soon as possible.
“It is the No. 1 call to our offices — even above ‘I can’t get through to the unemployment number,’” Vitale said.
Dr. Thomas Kramer, a gastroenterologist at the Taylor Station Surgical Center on the Far East Side, said he and many of his colleagues think they should be able to get back to work immediately.
Kramer said he doesn’t doubt the seriousness of the virus but thinks it’s clear that Ohio has avoided a worst-case scenario. The center, he said, has enough personal protective equipment from its usual shipments to operate as normal.
“It’s not making a lot of sense to us as physicians and nurses as things are improving,” Kramer said. “If we’ve got enough equipment and we’re doing the things they want us to do and people need the health care … then when are we going to be doing this again?”
Orthopedic surgeon Ian Thompson told the task force that he has patients who will likely need additional surgeries or face worse outcomes because they aren’t getting physical therapies. One female patient got worse because her knee replacement surgery was put on hold.
“Her knee gave out and she fell and broke her hip and is now in the hospital,” Thompson said.
And a pediatric dentist from Minster in northwest Ohio said he’s worried about his patients’ teeth shifting since such devices as braces and retainers require frequent checkups.
“The longer that treatment gets delayed there will be teeth moving in directions unsupervised,” Dr. Phil Slonkosky said. “That’s definitely going to cause some problems,”
DeWine and Acton are the ones with the authority to lift the order on non-essential medical care. They’ve been in contact with groups such as the Ohio Hospital Association as well as state lawmakers.
“I think common sense is going to prevail here,” Rep. Derek Merrin, R-Monclova, said. “I expect for there to be a reversal here shortly.”
Merrin acknowledged that short of changing the laws that give Acton the authority to issue these orders, there isn’t a lot state lawmakers can do to force her hand when it comes to doctors’ offices and surgical centers. He said hopes that the governor and his team will trust Ohio’s medical professionals to keep their patients and their employees safe.
“Health decisions need to be between the physician and the patient … We do not need the state government micromanaging what kind of procedures people will get,” Merrin said. “State government has no role in telling someone if they are going to have a hip replacement or not.”