By Dr. Wendell Pahls, Medical Director of Emergency Services, Baptist Health-Little Rock
One of the things that we’re starting to see as an emerging and concerning trend during the COVID-19 pandemic is that patients are delaying appropriate visits to the emergency department for other health conditions because of a fear of exposure to COVID-19. We’ve seen a number of patients who have delayed care that have had strokes, heart attacks, or are developing pneumonia or other serious problems.
But delaying care for other conditions that need immediate attention is not necessary. Anyone with a medical emergency should feel comfortable coming to the hospital emergency department. We are prepared and ready to help.
We’ve spent an extraordinary amount of effort to make sure that the emergency department is a safe and appropriate place for people with any type of emergency. We have negative pressure rooms that can remove the air out of a patient’s room and vent it through a filter so that patients in nearby rooms aren’t even exposed to the same circulating air. We have very strict isolation protocols and safety gear to make sure that the staff is protected and there’s no cross contamination with patients.
When people delay getting health care, they frequently extend the severity of the injury. For example, heart attacks are time dependent. The longer the tissue of your heart goes without proper oxygen, the more damage is associated with that injury. The same thing goes with a stroke. The longer you delay onset of appropriate care during a stroke-like event, the worse the damage is going to be. In a trauma situation, you are more likely to develop an infection or other problems without early intervention time. Time can be a major factor in achieving good outcomes.
We have been getting 10 to 15 calls a day for the last week asking if the ER is open for emergencies. The answer is absolutely YES! We are here to help people with any type of injury or illness that someone feels warrants a visit to the emergency room.
We are here just like we’ve always been to take care of any type of medical emergency, and we are here to deal with all the associated troubles associated with a pandemic and still provide good care for anything else such as stroke, heart attack, and any other emergency health problems.
It concerns me greatly when I hear the stories about people choosing to delay their care. I understand that people are frightened about coming to the emergency department because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But if you are having a medical emergency, it is safe to come here and let us help you with it.
Another thing that has become apparent in recent weeks is that patients are showing up to the ER in much sicker conditions than past months. We believe that is a result of delaying care. We are admitting a higher percentage of patients from the ER to the hospital than we normally do, and many of the patients we are admitting are terribly ill. If many of these patients had come to the ER a little earlier, we believe we would have been able to get better outcomes.
It is heartbreaking to see these patients show up later than they should in the course of their illness. We are here because we want to help take care of people, and fear should not be one of the things that drives people away and prevents them from seeking the care that they should get.
The ER has always been a safe environment. We’ve always worked very hard to keep it clean and appropriate for all patients to come in. As we’ve had time to adjust and deal with the pandemic, the hospital has created additional layers of safety for patients so that they can feel comfortable coming to the emergency department and ultimately to the hospital should they need to be admitted.
If you need to come to the hospital, don’t delay out of fear. Know that you are going to be in a safe environment where cross contamination in acquiring infections is not a significant concern.