Elkins, W.Va. – Davis Health System emergency departments are seeing a nearly 50% drop in ED visits and suspect public fears of exposure to coronavirus are to blame. Doctors worry that this delayed care means sicker patients coming to ED’s and worse, an increase in deaths at home.
“Generally for the month of May, Davis Medical Center (DMC) averages 95 patients per day in the ED. Now, we might see 45 on a busy day,” said Susan Bobes, MD, and Emergency Medicine Director for Davis Health System. “What’s concerning is that we know broken bones, stroke and heart attacks are still happening.”
“With stroke or heart attack every second counts. We need patients to present within that immediate window of time where treatment is effective,” said Dr. Bobes. “Things that we can most times prevent are now causing irreversible damage and death. We worry that people are dying from untreated emergencies more than coronavirus.”
West Virginia’s weekly death rate spiked in March and April – these were not all COVID-related. On average, the state sees less than 600 deaths per week. For the peak weeks in March and April 2020, the death rates rose as high as 1,200. Delayed emergency care could be contributing to the spike.
“It can be confusing. People are told to stay home and stay safe, but having symptoms of a stroke or heart attack should be a red flag to come to the ED immediately,” said Bobes.
Emergency departments, like DHS ED’s at DMC, Broaddus Hospital and Webster County Memorial Hospital, have made changes since COVID-19 began. Medical teams are equipped with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); patients are triaged quickly to prevent time in waiting areas; family members are asked to wait in their car; intensive, terminal cleaning processes are employed continually; and, separate screening and treatment rooms are designated for suspected coronavirus patients.
Davis Medical Center has two negative-pressure isolation rooms designed for potential or suspected COVID patients.
“We have plenty of capacity in non-COVID designated areas within the emergency department to care for patients,” said Dr. Bobes. “Patients will not be exposed to coronavirus by coming to the ED. It is a safe environment for care.”
Bobes said DMC is experiencing an increase in hospital admissions from the ED as well as a swell in patient “coding” episodes. She suspects this too, is a result of sicker patients showing up in the ED. “There are challenges for patients who delay care like extended days in the hospital and more serious surgical procedures. It’s a real problem.”
Persons experiencing symptoms of heart attack or stroke, broken bones, accidents or traumas should call 911 or report to an Emergency Department immediately.