Jimena Ponte, a vice president at Hub International in El Paso, spent months readying her application to seek treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.

She has lupus anticoagulant, a rare blood disease that can lead to blood clotting.

After months of application prep and waiting, she got in and had an appointment date. But then the COVID-19 pandemic and closures upended everything.

“It had taken me almost a year to get in, and from one day to the next they called me and canceled my appointment. It was heartbreaking,” Ponte said.

Closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to have rippling effects across nearly every industry in El Paso and beyond, including in the medical sector. And for patients like Ponte, elective medical care does not mean optional medical care.

In Texas, elective medical procedures are now allowed to move forward after a weeks-long pause ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott.

The governor lifted the restrictions on April 22, but the backlog is still causing delays for thousands of Texans.

That does not mean all clinics are reopening and starting to schedule elective medical procedures. Every facility is having to weigh the risks.

Prior to the pandemic and economic shutdown, El Paso already had an acute shortage of health care providers. And Ponte said she sought treatment at the Mayo Clinic because of El Paso’s lack of specialists to help her. She said she’s being treated by a local hematologist, but has few options for access to the specialists she needs.

Some hospitals and clinics have had to furlough employees or cut hours in response to decreased demand. Elective procedures were paused to help keep supplies and capacities readily available for a possible surge in COVID-19 patients at hospitals.

Elective medical procedures are not just things like plastic surgery or cosmetic fillers and injections. Elective procedures can include mammograms, prostate cancer screenings, orthodontist appointments and joint repair surgeries.

Last week, El Paso Inc. asked readers to share their stories of procedures that had been postponed or canceled. Readers wrote in to talk about everything from broken braces wires to an additional five-month wait to see a new doctor.

Thomas Handy, a real estate and cryptocurrency investor, said in an email that his son’s wisdom teeth removal surgery was postponed because of COVID-19 restrictions. He added that his son has braces and has a broken wire that can’t be immediately fixed.

“Recently I had two eye exams this month, and they were my annual eye exam. Other than the mask and washing my hands, there were no issues,” Handy said. “It seems there is no standard for who can and can’t be seen for medical exams.”

Sheryl Maxsom said she had been waiting for six weeks to see a neurologist to try and get a diagnosis for a neurological disorder, but her March 30 appointment was canceled. She is taking medicine for a similar disorder but has not been able to receive a precise diagnosis.

Paola Gallegos, a client relations specialist at RJL Real Estate Consultants, said her annual OB-GYN appointment was pushed back from April to August, and she had already been waiting six months to see the doctor.

Adriana Mares, a UTEP master’s student, said her ACL reconstruction surgery was postponed.

One reader said he was able to reschedule a VA clinic trip as a telemedicine conference, and it went well.

Ponte said she’s seeing the effects of postponements on elective procedures in her work at Hub International, an insurance brokerage firm.

“It’s a very unfortunate thing we’re dealing with. I see it every day,” Ponte said. “Some of these people are in dire need to have that medical care done, and I hope to see hospitals and doctors realize that we need to start somehow safely reopening to start providing these services to patients.”

Email El Paso Inc. reporter Sara Sanchez at sesanchez@elpasoinc.com or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 105.


(1) comment


Most delayed procedures resulted from rules put in place by the Texas Medical Board. These rules were very stringent at first, but they are being relaxed gradually. I hope people will realize that no doctor is going to disobey an order of the Texas Medical Board. It is not worth the loss of one's license to practice medicine, and some violations also were punishable by heavy fines and jail terms. Please understand that it was not your doctor's decision to delay your procedure.

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