VENICE — Local hospitals are keeping an eye on COVID-19 numbers as they work on getting regular services back to pre-pandemic levels.

When Gov. Ron DeSantis authorized them to resume performing non-emergency surgeries earlier this month, it was with conditions: remaining able to handle a surge in COVID-19 patients; maintaining adequate personal protective equipment; and being ready to engage with long-term care providers.

Both Venice Regional Bayfront Health and Sarasota Memorial Hospital were able to immediately resume surgeries, which has enabled them to bring back staff.

“Elective procedures have been restarted in our hospital and surgery center; our physicians and caregivers are working diligently to keep every patient safe,” VRBH CEO Karen Fordham said in a statement. “We are staffing appropriately as our volumes rise.”

SMH CEO David Verinder said in a video status report this week that half of the staff that had been furloughed there due to a decrease in patient volumes has been brought back because non-emergent surgeries are almost at their pre-COVID-19 level.

“We are working to get everyone back,” he said. “We won’t rest until that happens.”

SMH saw its in-patient census drop by 30-40%, he said, while surgeries fell off by 50%.

“Our in-patient volume has definitely rebounded,” he said, though he noted that emergency room visits are still off by 35%.

“They’re coming back but they’re coming back slowly,” he said.

It’s likely that people are still concerned about the risk of contracting COVID-19 from a hospital visit, he said, but they should know that “this hospital is a very, very safe place to be.”

Of the daily census, about 5% of in-patients are hospitalized for COVID-19, he said, and they’re kept completely separate from the rest of the population.

On Friday afternoon it was 32 patients out of 667, according to the SMH website.

“You should not be concerned about that,” he said.

VRBH reported having one COVID-19 patient Friday. Fordham said that’s a “testament to the residents who have helped limit the spread of COVID-19 by sheltering-in-place.”

Like SMH, Venice Regional is ready to handle an influx of infected patients if there is one, she said.

“We closely monitor current and projected COVID-19 cases in our community and region, the availability of testing, PPE and medication supply levels,” she said. “ICU beds and space are prepared to respond if COVID-19 cases increase.

The hospital continues to follow CDC guidelines, she said, including the use of PPE for all staff providing care.

“Everyone who enters our hospital, HealthPark surgery center and medical practices, including staff, is screened, and all employees, physicians and patients are expected to wear masks,” she said.

Patients screened as negative for COVID-19 receive care from dedicated staff in a separate area from any COVID-19 positive patients, she said.

Both CEOs sounded a warning about deferring medical care.

“It is safe — and necessary — to seek immediate help in an emergency department for serious health emergencies like chest pain, heart attacks, strokes and other life-threatening conditions,” Fordham said.

Delay could cause irreparable harm, Verinder said.

Physicians affiliated with both hospitals offer appointments via telehealth to anyone concerned about a hospital visit, they said.

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