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Amherst Bee: Kaleida Health physicians concerned by continued drop in local ER visits

Released: 6/24/2020 3:22:26 PM

Emergency department visits at Kaleida Health facilities – Buffalo General Medical Center/Gates Vascular Institute, DeGraff Memorial Hospital, Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital and Oishei Children’s Hospital – dropped by 52% in May, compared to ER visits in May 2019. That was only a slight improvement from the 63% drop in April of this year.

According to Kaleida officials, the continued decline in patients seeking emergency medical care highlights the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and is likely fueled by a fear of contracting the novel coronavirus – a fear physicians have been working to dispel.

“COVID-19 is a very serious health threat, but perhaps not as serious as the potential risks associated with delaying or forgoing treatment altogether for other serious health conditions,” said Dr. Joshua Lynch, medical director of the DeGraff Memorial Hospital Emergency Department and corporate emergency services liaison at Kaleida Health. “My colleagues and I worry that unaddressed health issues could result in long-term complications and more limited treatment options down the road if a patient’s condition worsens and symptoms become too serious to overlook.”

Healthcare workers are concerned that individuals are choosing to ignore symptoms such as chest pain or signs of stroke for hours or even days in fear of contracting the virus at the hospital. Ignoring these symptoms, however, could have dire consequences, such as permanent disability or death.

In April, American Medical Response, the region’s largest team of paramedics and EMTs, recorded a 19% drop in 911 calls compared to April 2019, following a 12% reduction in March. In May they have received 1,346 fewer emergency response requests than in May 2019 – a 14% decrease.

“We at AMR have established a nationwide campaign called Minutes Matter,” said Scott Karaszewski, AMR chief EMS officer. “While we are encouraging people to stay home to save lives, it’s critical they understand that it’s okay to call 911 if they are experiencing symptoms of a medical emergency, such as a heart attack or stroke.”

The number of ER visits for appendicitis, infected gall bladders, intestinal blockages and other critical medical issues like chest pain, stroke symptoms, and injuries have decreased drastically at Kaleida Health hospitals over the past few months.

Last month, Kaleida patient Ann Brooker, 58, hesitated to go to the ER at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital one night after feeling severe pain in her abdomen and experiencing frequent vomiting. She eventually called the hospital to ask if it was safe to come in before she left home.

Following some tests, Brooker’s doctor determined her gall bladder was severely inflamed and she was admitted that night. About 36 hours later, she had gall bladder surgery and was released the following day.

“Once I decided to go to Millard Fillmore Suburban, my fears were met with great care by the staff to make sure I felt comfortable and safe,” Brooker said. “I am so glad I did not wait to get my surgery and cause any further damage to my health. I encourage people to take care of their health and seek medical care when they need it.”

According to Dr. Lynch, all Kaleida emergency departments have been adhering to strict precautionary measures to protect patients and health care workers from the moment they enter the hospital.

“You can expect temperature screening checkpoints at all entry points, universal masking, rigorous sanitizing processes, enhanced protective equipment and the separation of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patient cases from the general population of patients seeking care,” Dr. Lynch said.

Patients can now book scheduled ER visits through Kaleida’s website to reduce wait times. For those unable to seek treatment at an emergency room or unsure if they need emergency care, Kaleida Health also offers telemedicine appointments with board-certified emergency room physicians.