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Monday, May 4, 2020

ERs Are Still Safe

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The huge decline in emergency room visits concern caregivers

Time was when you had chest pain or experienced sudden numbness and loss of movement in your face, arm or leg that you rushed to the nearest emergency department.

Appendicitis or heart attacks or strokes have not gone away. Flu and pneumonia still occur. These and many other serious medical conditions still exist, and they still need to be treated, despite this outbreak of COVID-19.

When health conditions are not treated promptly, the outcomes may not be as positive. This is particularly true in the case of a suspected heart attack or stroke when time is of the essence or with appendicitis where a rupture makes the surgery more complex. Life-threatening medical issues require the highest level of care in a timely manner with specially trained teams of medical professionals.

Emergency departments across the country have noted a disturbing trend. People with true health problems are not going to the emergency department or delaying a visit for fear of contracting COVID-19.

The drop in patient numbers began in mid-March, around the time the pandemic was taking hold in our country.

“We have definitely seen a decline in the number of patients seeking treatment in our emergency departments across the system, as much as 50 percent on most days and some days even more,” says Susan Cash, director of Willis- Knighton Health System’s emergency department.

Dr. Jason Mook, emergency medicine specialist for Willis-Knighton, agrees. He acknowledges the role that fear of contracting COVID-19 has had in the decline in the number of patients being treated in ERs. “Under normal circumstances, patients understandably don’t want to come to the hospital or emergency department if it’s not something serious, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, people in real need of urgent medical care are staying away,” Dr. Mook says, indicating it is a disturbing trend.

Emergency health-care providers at Willis-Knighton are particularly concerned about the decrease over the past two months in heart attacks, strokes and other serious medical conditions, “which, quite honestly, is puzzling,” Cash says. “We think these patients may be ignoring signs and symptoms of serious disease processes and not seeking care at all.”

“Our emergency department is safe,” Dr. Mook emphasizes. He notes processes and protocols are in place to protect not only patients but for staff as well.

Willis-Knighton has implemented safety measures and is taking all the necessary steps to reduce exposure to COVID-19 throughout its hospitals and clinics. All staff and patients must wear masks to reduce the risk of exposure, and social distancing is enforced. In emergency departments, COVID-19 positive patients and those who possibly have COVID-19 are isolated in waiting areas and treatment areas to ensure proper infection control.

“There is no greater risk of contracting the virus in our emergency department than in going to the grocery store,” Dr. Mook says. “But, there is a certain danger in waiting to seek medical help, especially for people who show early signs of stroke or heart disease.”

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