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Proliance Surgeons CEO says it’s ‘safer in our clinics than anywhere else’

Nurse Nick Brideau (L), from the ICU COVID unit, and Nurse Karen Hayes administer care to a patient who has just been transferred to the acute care COVID unit at Harborview Medical Center on May 7, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Elective surgeries have been allowed to resume in Washington state as part of the phased reopening. But are patients actually showing up for appointments? Mark Barnhart, CEO of Proliance Surgeons, says their facilities are back up and operating “very carefully and cautiously.”

“Our clinics are now at maybe 50% of what we were running in January and February,” Barnhart told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show. “We’re implementing social distancing. We’re wearing a mask inside of our offices and asking the patients to also show up with masks just to be extra careful. And then we’re also trying to keep up with the testing options that are available and taking full advantage of those.”

Barnhart said since people can get COVID-19 even after being tested, they’re treating everyone as if they are a carrier of the virus. That way, if they are a carrier, everyone is safe.

While dental hygienists are slated to return to work soon, some have expressed concern about a lack of personal protective equipment as much of it was sent to hospitals and first responders when dental offices closed. For Proliance Surgeons, Barnhart said the supply levels are good.

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“Proliance Surgeons is a large organization with 250 surgeons, so we have a purchasing director who’s really done an outstanding job of scouring available sources,” he said. “And so to that extent, we’re not in as good of shape, as deep of pockets as the hospital system, but we’re pretty good for a physician practice with 250 surgeons.”

The elective surgeries that were previously held off include non-urgent knee replacements, hip replacements, and plastic surgery cases that are cosmetic in nature. If a patient was in significant pain, however, those surgeries were considered urgent, Barnhart explained.

“We’ve tried to go ahead and do those surgeries, but that’s cut our revenues 90%, which is similar to what a lot of hospitals have experienced on any of their cases that were done outpatient surgery wise,” he said.

Now, even though elective surgeries can resume, there has not been a sudden rush of patients. Barnhart said that could be in part due to the limits that Proliance has in place at their facilities.

“It was almost overnight that we went from our clinics seeing probably a 15% load to a 50% load, which we think will be fairly stable now,” he said. “I’m not sure how much that is being controlled by us just not agreeing to schedule patients. The patients seem to be ready. There’s people that need care and want to have better functionality.”

Due to the cutbacks in surgeries and a drop in patients, Proliance has had to cut staff during the pandemic, but is starting to be able to bring surgeons back in.

“I think we’ve put more than 600 employees on standby … many of them are receiving unemployment,” he said. “We are beginning to call those employees back in, but we haven’t called in, by any means, all of those employees. So the impact from a business standpoint has just been awful.”

His message to patients in need of care is that their facilities, physician offices, ambulatory surgery centers, and hospitals are some of the safest places right now because of all the safety protocols in place.

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“You can’t go anywhere and be safer than in our ambulatory surgery centers, in our physician practices, because of everything that’s being done to keep everyone safe with appropriate masks and protective equipment, and even sterilizations that are done after every procedure and in every one of our ORs, everything is sterilized,” Barnhart said. “So it’s much safer in our clinics than it is anywhere else.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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