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Guest Column: The untold story of health care during the pandemic

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Over the past several months, COVID-19 has become a central focus in all our lives. We anxiously await the news each evening with hopes that the numbers of cases and hospitalizations are decreasing.

However, in Tyler, cases rose by sixty just last weekend. And as of early this week, 152 East Texas patients were receiving treatment for the coronavirus at Tyler hospitals. As we work together to flatten the curve, it seems the virus is affecting every decision we make.

But there is a bit of an untold story here, one that we, emergency healthcare providers, have been watching unfold since the pandemic began. It’s a situation everyone must be aware of.

While our community has worked together to social distance and stay home, it has caused many to inadvertently avoid getting critical emergency health care. In fact, a recent national survey found nearly half of Americans have delayed medical care because of COVID-19 and 11% of those who delayed care saw worsened health conditions as a result. Similarly, emergency room volumes across the country decreased 21% in June 2020 compared to June 2019, which is better than April and May, when volumes were down 48% and 42% compared to levels a year earlier. In Tyler, we have seen a similar trend of emergency room visits and EMS requests decreasing significantly. As a result, people are literally dying at home simply because they are afraid to go to an emergency room.

In many cases, these consequences are entirely avoidable with proper, timely medical care. For example, if not addressed immediately, a treatable heart attack can turn into life-long heart disease, or worse — death. Following the initial COVID-19 outbreak, New York City reported an 800% increase in at-home deaths due to fear of contracting the virus in hospitals. The thought of loss of life is troubling enough — imagine knowing that loss could have been prevented with a short drive to the emergency room.

The most common, and life-threatening, delays in care are from patients with heart disease, stroke and sepsis. Any delay in seeking care for these conditions places the patient’s life at risk and can have massive ramifications for their future health. Stroke victims in particular have shown a dangerous trend of delaying care during the pandemic. New research shows patients are arriving to hospitals and treatment centers an average of 160 minutes later during COVID-19. When every second counts, this is a matter of life and death.

COVID-19 may have changed daily lives in many ways, but emergency rooms have stood, and remain, a constant pillar for communities to rely on. With patient safety always the top priority, emergency care providers are going above and beyond in new health protocols. Just some of the steps being taken include: rigorous sanitation protocols; stringent screening processes; mobile units for patient care and procedures; and separate areas for those suspected of having COVID-19. Nothing is more important than protecting patients’ lives. Emergency medicine physicians will continue to go the extra mile, taking every precaution possible to ensure a safe, reliable space for every patient who needs it.

Let me be clear: Despite what you may be hearing about overcrowding or high transmission risks in hospitals, there is absolutely no reason to delay care under any circumstances. If you are experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, tingling or blurred vision — or any other symptom you feel is an emergency, please seek immediate care.

A health emergency is just that — an emergency. It requires urgent, specialized care and there should be no question, hesitation or delay in getting that care. As much as we work together to battle the pandemic, we must also work together to ensure proper health care is not neglected.

We all want to be safe and do what is necessary to keep our fellow community members safe. However, that does not mean putting your life or a loved one’s life at risk. You must trust we are here to provide the right care at the right time at the right place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

– Dr. Evans Smith is an emergency physician in Tyler and a member of the Texas College of Emergency Physicians.

Today's Bible verse

TODAY’S BIBLE VERSE

“And when I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come as someone superior in speaking ability or wisdom, as I proclaimed to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

1 Corinthians 2:1-2

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