Patients are still not seeking care at the Mercy Regional Medical Center emergency department, and physicians are worried they are delaying because of coronavirus concerns.
In March, after Colorado’s first positive COVID-19 case, hospitals saw a steep reduction in patients coming to emergency rooms. Patient visits are slowly picking up, but their numbers have not returned to normal. The hospital reminded patients they can be treated safely in a news release issued Thursday.
“Centura Health-Mercy Regional Medical Center wants to remind our patients and communities that all of their health care needs, including life-threatening conditions and chronic illnesses, can be treated safely even as the fears of COVID-19 loom,” the news release said.
The number of ER patients declined by 50% in March compared with March 2019 across Centura Health, which manages 17 hospitals and other health facilities in Colorado and Kansas. The hospital system is still seeing a 30% decline in patients coming to emergency departments.
Mercy is not the only medical facility in Southwest Colorado seeing a decrease in patient volume. The number of ER patients at Animas Surgical Hospital have decreased by about 25% to 30% each week, although numbers vary, said Karis Morrall, the hospital’s marketing coordinator.
“We believe a key reason for a continued 30% decline in patients is the fear of contracting COVID-19 in a health care setting,” said Jennifer Rupp, infectious disease physician with Mercy’s Four Corners Infectious Disease and Internal Medicine, in the news release.
People have been encouraged to stay at home since March. Rupp said people seem to think that hospitals are “hotbeds for exposure and contamination.”
Physicians are concerned patients may be ignoring or dismissing symptoms of chest pain, stroke, severe illness or injury. The effect of people forgoing treatment could be deep and long-lasting, said both Mercy and Animas hospitals.
The Centura hospitals have implemented safety measures, such as screening patients for symptoms of the illness before they enter the emergency department, cleaning thoroughly and isolating anyone who shows signs of the virus, the statement said.
Animas Surgical Hospital has implemented precautions such as mandatory face coverings, health screenings of patients and staff members, social distancing in lobbies and cleaning and sanitizing protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“You can’t reverse damage ... caused by a delay in needed care,” Rupp said. “We do want people to practice social distancing. But we don’t want people to stay at home if you’re having symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.”