Across the country, emergency departments previously bursting at the seams and hospitals that were operating at capacity have seen a significant reduction in patient volumes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At Kaleida Health – Buffalo General Medical Center/Gates Vascular Institute, DeGraff Memorial Hospital, Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital and Oishei Children’s Hospital – emergency room visits have slowed to about 50% of the normal volume.
But where have all the sick patients gone?
David Hughes, M.D., chief medical officer, Kaleida Health, said fear is causing people to not seek care for urgent conditions, which could lead to an even greater threat to the health of the community.
“We are still seeing people coming in with chest pains and stroke symptoms. Just not the sheer volume that we had before,” Hughes said. “And there are some national statistics to show that people are staying away. We want people to seek care immediately if they are experiencing any signs or symptoms of a serious condition.”
The number of visits for other critical medical issues, like inflamed appendixes, infected gall bladders and bowel obstructions, has decreased significantly at Kaleida Health’s hospitals. This trend has medical professionals worried that patients are putting themselves at greater risk by not seeking the appropriate care in time.
“The longer these patients delay treatment, the sicker they may become,” Hughes explained. “Trying to avoid COVID-19 exposure could put their health at serious risk for other preventable conditions and complications.”
Hughes said he hopes to reassure the public about the safety of visiting Kaleida Health’s hospitals and clinics during the COVID-19 crisis.
“We understand the public’s apprehension to visit emergency departments because of the risk of COVID-19 exposure,” he said. “At this point, the hospital is among the safest places to be right now with the extreme precautions that we have taken to protect patients and staff and to limit the spread of COVID-19.”
Kaleida Health has instituted universal masking, requiring all providers and staff as well as any patients and anyone coming into the emergency department to wear a mask. In addition, Kaleida Health implemented even more frequent and rigorous cleaning protocols to ensure facilities and high-touch areas are sanitized and safe.
Staff caring for COVID-19 patients are wearing personal protective equipment – such as N95 masks, gloves, gowns, face shields/eye protection – to protect themselves and prevent spreading the virus to other patients.
If a person is feeling ill, Kaleida Health’s emergency departments and outpatient clinics now offer the option of being seen by a doctor for medical issues from the safety of one’s own home by scheduling a video or telephone visit.
“For some medical issues, like potentially broken bones, lacerations needing stitching or more serious medical needs, an in-person visit will be necessary,” Hughes said.
But for other medical issues, a video visit using a smartphone, tablet or computer eliminates an individual’s exposure to germs and reduces the risk of getting or transmitting illness from or to others. Kaleida said, “By utilizing telehealth video or phone visits, patients will get the same great care without leaving their house. Video visits are fast, easy and safe.”
“Ultimately, we want the community to know that we are still available – both in person and virtually – to provide the safest, highest-quality care – whether you are having a baby, need emergency surgery, or are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or stroke,” Hughes said. “We are ready to provide the same great care our community expects and deserves.”