ARLINGTON, TEXAS, April 24, 2020 — Caregivers with Texas Health Resources are urging people with serious medical conditions, including heart attacks and strokes, to seek immediate medical care at emergency rooms or by calling 911 during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re speaking out because new data shows people may be avoiding hospitals out of fear of the new coronavirus, and that could lead to complications and death in some cases.
“To control the spread of COVID-19, millions of North Texans have embraced the idea that we’re safer at home – but not if you’re having a serious medical condition,” said Mary Robinson, PhD, R.N., NEA-BC, Reliable Health chief nursing officer of Texas Health. “People should not hesitate to go to the ER or call 911 if they’re having what they think is an emergency. ERs have the supplies, staff and expertise to care for people and do it safely during this pandemic.”
Texas Health has seen a decline in ER patients not related to COVID-19, and local EMS providers have seen a decrease in people calling 911. And when 911 is called, there is an increase in people declining transport for definitive hospital care likely due to fears of being exposed to the new coronavirus.
At a time when overall 911 call volume is decreasing, MedStar, which provides ambulance service in the Tarrant County area, responded to 12% more cardiac arrest calls in March 2020 compared to March 2019, according to the EMS provider. So far in April, crews responded to 38% more cardiac arrests than in April 2019. Among patients found to be in cardiac arrest, 54% more patients were pronounced dead on scene by MedStar crews in April 2020 than in April 2019.
An emergency medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth said this tells him people may be waiting and waiting with chest pain or other symptoms and calling 911 later than they normally would have. “Don’t delay getting to an emergency room because it could save your life,” he said. “We don’t want people to forget that because of the stay-at-home guidelines.”
According to the American Hospital Association, stay-at-home orders have led to a decrease in patients seeking emergency care for conditions other than COVID-19. This is partially due to fewer car accidents and other injuries because people are at home for longer periods of time.
The decrease in traumatic injuries makes sense, but a decrease in medical conditions does not, Texas Health clinicians say. They fear some people might not be getting to the pharmacy and taking their regular medications like they should – and medical issues might actually be going up. They especially worry about people with existing conditions and older adults.
Texas Health and other health systems are taking extra safety measures to protect patients and staff from possible exposure to COVID-19. Many ERs have been divided into two sections to limit the spread of COVID-19. And within the hospitals, inpatients with COVID-19 or other viruses are separated from patients with other medical conditions.
“Sadly, national and local reports suggest people are staying home even in the face of medical emergencies,” said Kami Banks, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.C., a cardiologist on the medical staffs at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano, Allen and Frisco and a member of Presbyterian Heart and Vascular Group, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. She also served as chair of medicine at Texas Health Allen. “Many people are now hesitant to call 911 because of fears of contracting the new coronavirus at the hospital and this is leading to higher death rates at home. We want the community to know that we have the supplies, equipment and expertise to care for them through their medical crisis while protecting them from the new corona virus”
“I can’t stress enough how important it is to not ignore chest pain, shortness of breath, or one-sided weakness, especially if you have a pre-existing cardiac condition.”