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Massachusetts orders stretched hospitals to cut back further on elective procedures

“Our healthcare community remains under tremendous pressure."

The exterior of Brigham & Women’s Hospital. Lane Turner / The Boston Globe

Massachusetts is ordering strained hospitals to cut back further on certain elective services and procedures, as the state’s health care system continues to grapple with staffing shortages and increased hospitalizations exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to new guidance issued Friday by Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration, hospitals must reduce non-urgent scheduled procedures by 50 percent beginning next Wednesday, unless they have at least 15 percent of beds available.

The state’s Department of Public Health says the reduction applies to non-emergency procedures that are scheduled in advance and won’t adversely affect a patient’s health if delayed.

The new rules replace previous guidelines issued on Nov. 23 ordering hospitals with less than 15 percent to reduce such procedures by 30 percent.


However, over 93 percent of the 9,102 hospital beds available in Massachusetts remain occupied, according to state data released Thursday.

The moves come as COVID-19 hospitalizations have doubled since mid-November to a count of 1,239 as of Thursday, with unvaccinated individuals making up two-thirds of patients.

However, state officials primarily attribute the crunch to “unprecedented staffing shortages” that have contributed to the loss of about 500 hospital beds. They also cite historical seasonal increases in hospitalizations and patients who delayed care for non-COVID-19 conditions during the pandemic whose ailments have only worsened since, requiring longer hospital stays.

State officials also announced an order Friday allowing hospitals to redirect ICU nurses to other inpatient beds and move patient care to “alternative spaces,” in order to increase their capacity to take on patients.

“Our healthcare community remains under tremendous pressure, and these flexibilities will provide hospitals with additional tools to remain nimble and accessible as they navigate the weeks ahead,” Steve Walsh, the president and CEO of the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, said in a statement.

Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that his administration was talking to the state’s National Guard about the possibility of activating members to provide support to hospitals, after Maine and New Hampshire — both of which are seeing record COVID-19 hospitalizations — took similar action.


However, a spokesman for Baker told GBH on Friday that the state had no such plans “at this time.”


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