Mass. hospitals pause elective procedures due to COVID-19 surge

Starting Dec. 27, all hospitals across the state must postpone or cancel non-essential procedures.

Brigham and Womens Hospital. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

As of Monday, all Massachusetts hospitals must postpone or cancel elective procedures to take a load off the healthcare system as COVID-19 cases surge across the state.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s office announced the guidance last week, saying it would go into effect at midnight on Dec. 27 to address a recent rise in COVID-19 cases and preserve healthcare personnel resources. The order requires that all Massachusetts hospitals either “postpone or cancel all non-essential elective procedures likely to result in inpatient admission in order to maintain and increase inpatient capacity.”

The measure comes amid a critical healthcare staffing shortage across the state, and as the omicron variant sweeps through the U.S. in the wake of holiday travel.


As of Friday, there were 10,040 newly reported COVID-19 cases and 980,055 total confirmed cases in Massachusetts, with 32 newly reported deaths and 19,604 confirmed deaths. The state on Friday also reported 1,595 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. 

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health defines elective procedures as those that are scheduled in advance because they don’t involve a medical emergency, and where delay won’t result in adverse outcomes to a patient’s health. Examples include injections, skin incisions, hip or knee replacements, endoscopy, tooth extraction, and ingrown toenail removal. 

State officials said people should still seek necessary care from their hospital or doctor. 

“This guidance should not be interpreted to discourage patients from seeking necessary care at the hospital or from their health care provider,” Baker’s office said in a press release.

Hospitals are operating at over 90 percent inpatient capacity, even as many hospitals have reduced their non-urgent scheduled procedures. The strain on hospitals is compounded by 500 fewer acute care inpatient beds available as compared to January 2021 as a result of unprecedented staffing shortages. 

Hospitals that maintain 15 percent medical, surgical and intensive care bed capacity can circumvent the requirement.

National Guard deployed to help Mass. hospitals

Also starting Dec. 27, the state will activate up to 500 members of the Massachusetts National Guard to support the non-clinical needs of hospitals and ambulance service providers. 


The Guards’ help aims to free up hospital staff so they can provide higher levels of care to patients.

“The measures taken by the state reflect how critical our circumstances have become in Massachusetts, and they have the full support of [Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association] and our members,” said MHA President and CEO Steve Walsh.

For 90 days, the Guard personnel will focus on five key roles — non-emergency ambulance transportation, patient observation, security support, in-hospital transport, and patient meal delivery. 


This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on