Hospitals around Kern County reopened this week for certain nonurgent elective procedures, loosening restrictions imposed in mid-March as part of California's stay-home order.

On Monday, Bakersfield Memorial and Mercy Downtown, as well as Adventist hospitals in Bakersfield and Tehachapi, began performing nonemergency procedures such as cardiac catheterization and gallbladder surgery. Mercy Southwest is scheduled to resume most elective procedures next week.

Kern Medical said it, too, is performing nonurgent elective procedures while continuing to offer care to patients diagnosed with COVID-19. It noted that all its clinical locations are open and that the organization recommends people "do not cancel or delay health-care services."

Hospital officials said only urgent, emergency and "clinically indicated" procedures are being done at local medical centers these days. Procedures such as cosmetic surgery remain off limits, they said.

The return to offering procedures that had been postponed because of the new coronavirus was based on guidance from Sacramento. The resumption helps not only patients whose medical care had been put on hold but also hospitals whose revenue has fallen because of a steep drop in patient visits during the crisis.

Bakersfield Memorial President and CEO Ken Keller said the hospital had been doing about three dozen procedures daily prior to the stay-home order. That number fell to between six and eight per day during the past 45 days or so, he said, before rising to about 19 scheduled procedures Tuesday.

"It is pent-up demand" for medical procedures, he said.

He added that more procedures will be done as the hospital ramps up its capacity during about the next two weeks. That schedule could change, he said, if there's a surge in COVID-19 cases or a sudden shortage of masks or other protective gear.

Patients coming in for elective procedures are tested for COVID-19 two to three days ahead of time. They can still be treated even if they test positive, Keller said.

At Adventist, patient volume during the crisis is down as much as 60 percent, said Dr. Ronald Reynoso, the company's chief medical officer in Bakersfield and Tehachapi.

"We went from being busy to not being busy at all," he said. As a result, he added, there's a large backlog of cases to be handled.

Adventist does prescreening phone calls with patients but does not test them ahead of time, Reynoso said. Also, visitations with inpatients have been greatly scaled back, he said.

“We're trying to send the message to the population and to the town that we are prepared," he said. "We have put all the processes in place to deal with the pandemic but also keep the hospital up and running for other care.”

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