Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.

Meek: Pandemic no reason to delay emergency care

  • Updated
  • Comments

Over the past several months, COVID-19 has become a central focus in all of our lives. And unfortunately, as cases continue to surge in the wrong direction, we must make take certain precautions to protect against the spread of the virus.

Here in Gregg County, our number of positive cases spiked 105% in the first 11 days of July, and hospitalizations continue to increase. 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 health care providers, have been watching unfold over the past several weeks. It’s a situation that everyone must be aware of.

While I’m proud to report that our community has worked together to wear masks, social distance and stay home, people also have inadvertently stopped 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. Here in Longview, our emergency room visits and 911 EMS requests have decreased significantly compared to data from a year ago. 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 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 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: 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, seven days a week.

Recommended for You

— Dr. Craig Meek is an emergency physician in Longview and serves on the Texas College of Emergency Physicians Board of Directors.