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State halts some surgeries at Nebraska Medical Center

January 14, 2022 GMT

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Gov. Pete Ricketts issued a public health order on Friday barring the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha from performing scheduled, non-emergency surgeries, one day after the hospital announced that it had activated its crisis plan because of the pandemic.

Ricketts said the would take effect at 5 p.m. Friday and remain in place through Feb. 13. It applies to what are known as Class C, D and E inpatient and outpatient surgeries, which aren’t as pressing as emergency procedures.

The Nebraska Medical Center is one of two hospitals within Nebraska Medicine, a nonprofit that said Thursday that it was shifting to a “crisis standard of care” because of the coronavirus’ omicron variant, which has led to a surge in infected patients.

In its announcement, the hospital system said surgeries might be postponed, appointments might need to be rescheduled and patients might end up getting care in classrooms or conference rooms. The state’s new directed health measure restricts some of the Nebraska Medical Center’s discretion on the lower-tier surgeries, making clear that they must be postponed.

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The order still allows doctors to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to perform surgeries that are necessary to preserve a patient’s health but aren’t needed immediately.

“Hospitals that decide to operate under a crisis standard of care should not be performing non-emergency surgeries,” Ricketts said in a news release. “Today’s (directed health measure) makes sure the Nebraska Medical Center remains focused on prioritizing care for patients with the most urgent medical needs.”

In a statement, Nebraska Medicine spokesman Taylor Wilson said the measures the hospital system enacted were already in line with the governor’s order.

“The actions we are taking ensure we are prioritizing care for patients with the most urgent medical needs,” Wilson said. “As outlined in the directed health measure, our medical providers will continue to make case-by-case determinations on surgeries and procedures that must be done to preserve the patient’s life or physical health.”

The statement said necessary care won’t be delayed and that patients should continue to get the care they had planned to unless they hear from their doctor.

Nebraska Medicine announced its shift to crisis care as the state’s Republican attorney general sued Douglas County to block Omaha’s new mask mandate, which the county’s public health director imposed amid a surge in virus cases.

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Ricketts, a fellow Republican, praised the lawsuit and accused the county health director of sidestepping proper legal channels and overreaching her authority. News of the lawsuit drew online criticism from some people, who juxtaposed headlines of the state trying to stop Omaha’s mask mandate with Nebraska Medicine announcing its crisis mode.

Douglas County Health Director Lindsay Huse said Tuesday that she believes she is on solid legal ground with the mandate under powers granted to her by city code.

“This was not an easy decision at all, and I know it’s going to create some waves,” Huse said. “But this is a tool we have in our toolbox. We have research, evidence out there showing that masks decrease transmission.”

The Nebraska Medical Center is the state’s largest hospital and cares for some of the state’s sickest patients. It’s also the teaching hospital for the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

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Follow Grant Schulte on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte