Hospitals have started to return to more normal operations this month after weeks of keeping intensive-care capacity available, sometimes at notable financial cost.

When pandemic restrictions started across the country in mid-March, health officials had hospitals and clinics postpone elective surgeries and procedures and outpatient clinic visits, to conserve space and resources and also reduce chances of passing infection with a highly contagious virus.

With newer health guidelines in place, elective surgeries and procedures and clinic visits have started again, all while hospitals maintain separate space for COVID-19 treatment. Hospitals have maintained screening for people entering the building, COVID testing for patients, constant mask use for all staff, patients and visitors and, as well as stricter visitor policies through the month.

Dr. Darryl Nelson, chief medical officer at Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence, said part of the challenge is getting people to realize it’s safe to go to the hospital for non-COVID matters and that caution could make things more serious.

“The more emergency stuff we find is people struggling to come to the hospital out of fear,” Nelson said. For example, his facility this month has treated three patiences with a ruptured appendix, something rarely seen now because people often have their appendicitis diagnosed before it’s more serious.

Heart and bowel issues can also be dangerous if people try to shrug off initial discomfort out of fear, Nelson said.

“We got started here recently, following mostly the CDC guidelines to sequentially opening based on urgency and severity,” Nelson said. “We haven’t started yet on the most elective ones.”

“It’s kind of misleading,” he said of the term elective. “In our profession it’s not completely elective, and if you don’t take care of it now it will just get worse.”

Truman Medical Centers slowly resumed elective procedures and clinic visits the first week of May, and it has been testing all surgery patients and most procedure patients for COVID-19 two or three days before the procedure.

In addition, TMC has repositioned chairs to have social distancing in waiting rooms, and some patients have waited in their cars or been taken directly to examination rooms.

At St. Mary’s Medical Center in Blue Springs, all elective surgery patients are tested for COVID-19 prior to a procedure. The hospital has also urged community members who had put off seeking urgent medical care for health issues unrelated to COVID-19 to not ignore symptoms due to fear or uncertainty about their safety in hospitals.

“We are here to take care of our community and are well-equipped to handle any health concerns they may have,” hospital CEO Drew Grossman said. “They can move forward with peace of mind in scheduling appointments or visiting our emergency room.”

“We're not taking it for granted,” Nelson said of people’s hospital safety worries. “We appreciate the concern.”

Both Centerpoint and St. Mary’s recently continued their strings of “A” ratings from the Leapfrog Group, an independent national watchdog group that follows health care quality and safety. Centerpoint received its eighth straight A and St. Mary’s its fifth.