116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — As COVID-19 hospitalizations in Iowa reach the highest levels seen in more than a year, Mercy Medical Center and UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital jointly announced Thursday they have postponed elective and non-urgent surgeries effective immediately.
The Cedar Rapids hospitals both have reported an alarming increase in patients hospitalized as a result of the coronavirus in recent weeks, which has placed “increasing strain on both hospitals’ capacity and staffing.”
“As a result, and in order to maintain capacity to care for all, St. Luke’s and Mercy have made the joint decision to temporarily postpone elective, non-urgent surgeries,” the announcement said. The hiatus will last through Christmas.
The decision comes after data was released Wednesday by the state showing Iowa broke a 2021 record for COVID-19 hospitalizations, this week surpassing more than 800 patients. As of Wednesday, 823 Iowans were hospitalized — the highest level seen yet in 2021.
State data show total available intensive care unit beds in the state dropped to a new low, reaching just 136 open beds as of Dec. 9.
“We are on our fourth wave of COVID-19,” hospital officials said in the joint statement. “Our health care teams have been on the front lines fighting this virus for nearly two years. They are physically and mentally exhausted.”
The Cedar Rapids hospitals currently are seeing higher COVID-19 patient admissions than the previous peaks in October and November 2020, the last time the infections resulted in record-breaking hospitalizations locally, said Dr. Tony Myers, chief medical officer at Mercy.
The hospitals did not delay as many elective surgeries last year, but current staffing issues and the monthslong nature of the current surge means officials have to take this step to preserve capacity, Myers told The Gazette.
“The number of patients that we've taken care of with COVID-19 over the last three months is massively greater than it was during our surge in November,” he said.
Last year’s peak lasted about three weeks. In this latest surge, Myers said hospitals across Iowa have been “slogging through” sustained COVID-19 patient admissions for weeks.
“It felt like a long time last year, but it was nothing compared to this,” he said.
Mercy and St. Luke’s will monitor hospitalization rates and evaluate daily their ability to resume procedures, officials said. Postponed surgeries will be rescheduled as soon as possible.
The hospitals issued an urgent plea for Iowans to help alleviate the strain on their facilities by getting vaccinated as soon as possible. New coronavirus variants in the community are highly transmissible and can easily infect those who are not fully vaccinated, officials say.
They also urge everyone to receive a COVID-19 booster shot if it’s been more than six months since the last Moderna or Pfizer shot, or more than two months since the last Johnson & Johnson shot.
Officials also emphasized the importance of everyone — even those who are fully vaccinated — wearing a mask in public settings, practicing social distance and taking other steps to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“We are at another critical point and we need everyone’s help,” according to the statement. “We are continuing to care for our communities, but when we delay surgeries, we are not caring for our communities as we would want. Help us help our community. Get vaccinated. Receive the booster. Wear a mask.”
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