The surgeries are a major money-making segment at most hospitals. Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered elective surgeries to stop on March 20, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marion County hospitals began ramping up their elective surgery programs on Monday, nearly seven weeks after the state ordered them to stop in response to concerns that COVID-19 patients would overwhelm the facilities.


Those fears never materialized, and the state’s hospital capacity was sufficient during the peak of the pandemic in April. Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted the ban effective on Monday as well as allowing restaurants to reopen on a limited basis. Bars, gyms and personal service businesses such as hair and nail salons remain closed.


On Monday, AdventHealth Ocala, Ocala Regional Medical Center and West Marion Community Hospital started performing elective surgeries again.


ORMC and West Marion are part of Nashville, Tennessee-based HCA Healthcare. AdventHealth Ocala is part of Altamonte Springs-based AdventHealth.


"As we continue to monitor the trajectory of this pandemic as well as state and federal policies, we have begun to thoughtfully re-introduce scheduled procedures and surgeries... to ensure that those who have been waiting for important care have access to treatment," according to a statement from Ocala Health, which operates ORMC and West Marion.


At AdventHealth Ocala, CEO Joe Johnson said they also started offering some elective surgeries.


"Typically, outpatient procedures, so they are not staying overnight. We’re trying to keep them somewhat minor, so we get our feet underneath us again," Johnson said.


Elective surgeries can include anything from cosmetic to joint replacements or cataract procedures.


The slow start is not only to allow staff to get back in the groove but also because some patients may be reluctant to enter the hospital.


"You definitely have patients who are reluctant to come until they are confident that this COVID-19 has passed," Johnson said. "We’re ready when they are ready. They can trust and be assured we have the processes in place."


All three hospitals are working under expanded precautions to reduce the chances of spreading the new coronavirus.


Those steps include requiring everyone, including patients, to wear face masks, screening everyone for symptoms before they enter the facilities, and isolating COVID-19 patients in a separate area of the hospital.


AdventHealth Ocala set aside the sixth floor, with 52 beds, as the COVID-19 treatment area. The hospital hopes to test every employee and medical provider for the virus before the end of the month.


ORMC and West Marion will keep staff who work with COVID-19 patients separate from elective surgery patients.


Elective surgeries are one of the major revenue streams for hospitals.


"Our financial footing is really based on elective surgeries and procedures. Those are really important to almost every hospital," Johnson said.


Despite the loss of revenue, AdventHealth did not enact furloughs or layoffs.


"The last six or seven weeks have been focused on patient, community and employee safety. Everything we have done has been with that in mind," he said. "It’s been expensive to not do the revenue-producing work and to keep our employees whole, but it was the right thing to do."


HCA implemented a 70% salary guarantee for idle staff. A few Marion County HCA employees fell under that program, said Lauren Debick, Ocala Health spokeswoman.


"It’s been a challenging six weeks. We feel we’re prepared. Come on back when you’re ready, and we’ll be ready," said AdventHealth Ocala’s Johnson.


— Contact Carlos E. Medina at 867-4157 or cmedina@starbanner.com