Across America, including here in the Delaware Valley, one of the surprising impacts of the coronavirus outbreak is that hospital emergency rooms are treating far fewer patients than normal.
One reason is that potential patients who would otherwise seek treatment are avoiding ERs because of fears they will contract the potentially deadly virus. However, area hospitals say patients who need emergency care should not avoid coming in for treatment.
The idea of empty emergency rooms due to COVID-19 seems counterintuitive, but as Inside Sources previously reported, the culprit is the coronavirus itself.
“First, COVID-19 cases are immediately secured elsewhere in the hospital without entering the ER, segregating the infected patients from the hospital population. At the same time, fears of the virus are discouraging some people who might otherwise go to the ER for a relatively minor medical issue to stay home,” according to the report. “Studies show that many Americans, including more than half of Millennials, use ERs or emergency care facilities for non-emergency care.”
Emergency rooms will not report wait times, but calls to a handful of ERs Monday morning were all met with similar results such as “it shouldn’t be that bad” and “it’s not that long of a wait.”
Philadelphia-area hospitals that responded to requests for comment from Delaware Valley Journal emphasized people should not selectively remove themselves from care or choose not to go to an emergency room if they think it is needed.
“We are well-prepared to handle both COVID-19 and other emergencies at Holy Redeemer’s Emergency Department,” said hospital communications manager Mary Anna Rodabaugh. “Anyone who is experiencing a health emergency should seek care immediately.”
“We are fully staffed with medical professionals who are available to treat all types of patients,” replied Michelle Aliprantis with Lower Bucks Hospital.
“We are doing all we can to keep our patients and our colleagues save and help limit the spread of this virus,” said Ann D’Antonio, vice president of Trinity Health’s communications, which has five hospitals in the region. “At the same time, it is important to not let the fear of COVID-19 cause you to ignore your overall health. Whether you are struggling with a chronic condition or facing an emergent medical issue, don’t ignore the signs. Call your doctor or emergency responders so they can provide the care you need.”
Trinity Health, meanwhile, announced it “is furloughing employees to deal with the financial stresses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Delco Daily Times reported Friday.
Virtually all hospitals have delayed elective surgeries, which are planned and more manageable health events compared to the unexpected issues that require emergency care. But the concern is rising that there are those who need non-COVID-19 care but are not getting professional help.
But hospitals have been getting the word out that people who have COVID-19 symptoms should not got straight to the emergency room.
“[Bucks County officials] stressed that if you’re not particularly sick, but concerned you may be infected, do not go to the ER before calling their COVID-19 helpline, (800)383-0371 or email [email protected]” local ABC anchor Walter Perez tweeted on March 24.
A person whose Twitter profile says she is a Philadelphia-based attorney tweeted just over a week ago, “My sister is a pharmacist at two hospitals just outside Philadelphia. Both are slower than ever due to cancelations of all elective procedures and no one coming to the ER. Im sure things could change quickly but that’s been her report all week.”
A Thursday front-page article from the Wall Street Journal noted a similar theme but with more of a financial emphasis.
“Coronavirus patients are overwhelming hospitals in cities including New York, New Orleans and Detroit,” the Journal said. “As others brace for similar spikes, they are also seeing sharp drop-offs in regular doctor visits, emergency-room arrivals and the lucrative surgeries that are vital to most hospitals’ bottom lines.”