By Sara Bondell - May 18, 2020
Ivan Campodonico was scheduled to have surgery at Moffitt Cancer Center on April 8. Doctors had discovered a mass in his kidney about a year ago, and after monitoring the slow-growing tumor it was time to have it removed.
Then COVID-19 hit. Campodonico’s procedure was one of about 30% of nonurgent surgeries—about 60-65 a week—to be delayed during the four-week height of the pandemic.
“It was a little concerning at first since I wanted to make sure everything was fine,” said Campodonico. “But with so much going on, there wasn’t much time to think about it. We focused on the safety and we knew it was safer for everyone—myself, my family and the doctors—if we waited.”
Now those surgeries are back on the calendar. Moffitt has rescheduled almost all of the postponed procedures and is ready to take on even more.
“We have a group of people with this selfless calling to take care of patients who do not view staying late and working harder to make sure someone is taken care of as an inconvenience,” said Moffitt’s Chief of Surgery Dr. Ricardo Gonzalez. “We have a flexible operating room schedule that is able to expand and meet everyone’s needs.”
While no cancer surgeries are truly elective, surgeons worked quickly to identify which procedures could be delayed, like the removal of nonaggressive tumors and secondary reconstructive surgeries.
“We were ahead of the curve compared to other hospitals in the community when it came to making necessary changes around the scheduling of patients for surgery,” said Gonzalez. “We made the decision to start deescalating nonurgent surgeries in a timely and thoughtful way and it was for the benefit of our staff and our patients.”
Surgical teams learned how to be flexible even before COVID-19, when a flood shut down six operating rooms in February. Despite the temporarily loss of space, Moffitt did not cancel a single surgery. Instead, teams got creative with scheduling and utilized a new operating room at the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation Outpatient Center at McKinley Campus. The teams are now applying that same ingenuity when it comes to rescheduling.
Moffitt is also taking precautions to make sure everyone is safe in the operating room. If possible, patients are asked to self-quarantine seven days prior to surgery and get a COVID-19 test within five days of surgery.
The team has put in place new personal protective equipment protocols and has developed a system if a patient who tests positive for COVID-19 needs emergency surgery that cannot be delayed.
More patients are now having their surgical follow-up appointments virtually. “It’s not a promise they are not going to be asked to come in, but it’s a safe way to have the appointment and have the patient stay home, stay safe and reduce the amount of traffic in the hospital,” said Gonzalez.
Campodonico will return to Moffitt in early June so his care team can reassess his cancer and reschedule his surgery.
“I am glad I waited to have the surgery and am comfortable now rescheduling,” he said.