Despite hospitals providing extra accommodations for emergency and necessary medical care, many facilities are seeing a decrease in patients to the emergency room during the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Jordan Asher, chief physician executive with Sentara Healthcare, said between March 15 and April 15 there has been a 37 percent decrease in patients with heart attack symptoms and a 40 percent decrease of people coming in with strokes as compared to the previous year.
Similarly at Riverside Regional Medical System, Dr. Gary Kavit, emergency department medical director, said there has been a significant decrease, approximately 45 percent, in patients coming in for emergency conditions, specifically heart failure and stroke.
In addition, Kavit said there have been an increase in the numbers of dead on arrival calls from local authorities because people are staying home instead of coming to a hospital for care.
“Not coming to the hospital when you have serious symptoms is detrimental,” Kavit said. “We know heart attacks and strokes are not taking a vacation, they’re still happening, yet we’re seeing these patients in decreasing volumes.”
Asher said there are a few possible reasons that patients aren’t coming to the hospital for care.
One is a concern for contracting the coronavirus. But Asher said Sentara Regional Medical Center, and other health care facilities, have been working hard to provide a clean and safe environment. All patients, no matter the reason, are screened for coronavirus symptoms before entering and all medical staff are equipped with the proper personal protective gear to help prevent the spread to any patients.
Sentara has also redesigned their waiting rooms to keep people apart and Asher said in many cases, they’re trying to not have people wait at all and will simply take them back for care as quickly as possible.
“We’re continuing to focus on cleaning and making sure everything is how it needs to be,” he said. “We have been doing this for some time now and we continue to learn how to do it better. We truly believe we have the ability to provide safe care, but it’s not available if people aren’t actually coming in for the care.”
At Riverside, Kavit said staff are screened before every shift and any coronavirus patients being cared for are taken to a separate area to prevent any spread.
“I think there’s a lot of fear of the unknown,” Kavit said. “But these can be serious issues and they need to come to the hospital.”
Asher said another possible reason why there’s a decline in individuals coming for care is because they’re trying not to overwhelm the medical system. He said when the stay-at-home order was first instituted, many people might not have realized it didn’t include medical emergencies.
“Our concern is that the message for the commonwealth has really been heeded to, which is wonderful to stop the spread,” he said. “But we want to make sure that it is managed with the concern of people not getting care…we have to remember there is a part of those orders that talks about people getting care.”
While many health care providers have switched to telehealth for care, Asher said people should still come to the hospital if they need in-person care or have an emergency. If a person is unsure whether they’re in need of emergency care, Asher said they should contact their primary physician and then call 911 as needed.
Both Asher and Kavit said the health care systems have been working hard to get information to the public through social media and other forms of outreach and they hope the community will learn that when they need medical care, they should come to a hospital.
“Our main goal is two things,” Asher said. “To deliver care and deliver care safely by making sure [patients] are safe and the people treating them are safe.”