Released: 5/31/2020 8:33:45 AM
By Another Voice
Published Sat, May 30, 2020
By Joshua Lynch
I have been an emergency medicine physician for 12 years, which means I’ve worked through the pressures of countless traumas, flu seasons, heart attacks, strokes and gunshot wounds. However, the weeks and months following our region’s first confirmed coronavirus case in mid-March have been nothing short of surreal.
The sobering reality of this new normal amid the Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it unintended consequences; namely, a sub-epidemic of people who opt out of seeking emergency medical care for fear of contracting the virus.
The number of ER visits for appendicitis, infected gall bladders, intestinal blockages and other critical medical issues like chest pain, stroke symptoms and injuries have decreased drastically at Kaleida Health hospitals (Buffalo General Medical Center, Gates Vascular Institute, DeGraff Memorial Hospital, Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital and Oishei Children’s Hospital) over the past few months.
On average, Kaleida Health emergency rooms saw 30 percent fewer patients in March and a staggering 63 percent drop in April, compared to 2019 volumes – consistent with national trends.
In April, American Medical Response recorded a 19 percent drop in 911 calls compared to April 2019, following a 12 percent reduction in March. So far in May they have received 1,064 fewer emergency response requests than in May 2019 – a 17 percent decrease.
My colleagues and I worry that unaddressed health issues could result in long-term complications and more limited treatment options down the road if the condition worsens and symptoms become too serious to overlook. For example, ignoring chest pain or signs of stroke for days or even hours could have dire consequences, such as permanent disability or death.
While apprehension to visit the ER during this outbreak is certainly understandable, hospitals swiftly implemented precautionary measures to protect patients and health care workers from the moment they walk through the door. You can expect temperature screening checkpoints at all entry points, universal masking, rigorous sanitizing processes, enhanced personal protective equipment and the separation of confirmed or suspected Covid-19 patient cases from the general population of patients seeking care.
For those unable to seek treatment at an emergency room, Kaleida Health also offers telemedicine appointments with board-certified emergency physicians through its website. More acute conditions, however, may still require a call to 911 and a trip to the hospital. In those cases, patients and their loved ones should know our local hospitals are safe and accessible.
I encourage all Western New Yorkers to seek care immediately when experiencing symptoms of a stroke, heart attack or other medical emergency. Covid-19 is a very serious health threat, but perhaps not as serious as the potential risks associated with delaying or forgoing treatment altogether.
Dr. Joshua Lynch serves as medical director of the DeGraff Memorial Hospital Emergency Department and corporate emergency services liaison at Kaleida Health.