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ER visits decrease

Pandemic scares people from seeking help when they need it

Trumbull Regional Medical Center in Warren reports that emergency room visits for chest pains have decreased by about 50 percent and ambulance runs have dropped off by about 33 percent since the COVID-19 pandemic has hit. Doctors in Trumbull and Mahoning counties say they are concerned that people with serious -- potentially fatal -- medical issues are not seeking help out of fear of the coronavirus. (Submitted photo)

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Mahoning Valley in March, Trumbull Regional Medical Center in Warren reports a 50 percent drop in chest pain patients and a third fewer ambulance runs to the emergency department.

It’s a statistic mirrored throughout the Mahoning Valley and across the country.

“COVID-19 is definitely not stopping people from having heart attacks, strokes and cardiac arrests. We fear it is stopping people from going to the hospital and that can be devastating,” said Jessica Doudrick, communications and marketing director of the American Heart Association office in Uniontown.

The American Heart Association joined a number of other medical groups — including the American Academy of Neurology, the American College of Emergency Physicians and the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions — to send a simple message:

“Calling 911 immediately is still your best chance of suriving or saving a life.”

Dr. James F. Kravec, an internal medicine specialist from Youngstown and chief clinical officer of Mercy Health-Youngstown, said, “Always go for chest pains, and wheezing and shortness of breath.”

People experiencing numbness, intense abdominal pains, and neurological and mental deterioration need medical help quickly as well, he said.

“We absolutely want people in the hospital that should be in the hospital,” Kravec said. “It’s a safe and clean environment for patients who need to be there.

“Some people are afraid to go to the hospital for fear of having COVID-19 patients nearby.”

However, those patients are isolated from the rest of the hospital, he said. The St. Elizabeth Youngstown, St. Joseph Warren and other Mercy Health hospitals are disinfected routinely. Staff wear personal protection equipment for their own protection as well as that of patients. Visitors are restricted. Conditions are kept as sterile as humanly possible, he said.

For less serious cases and routine medical care, many primary care physicians now offer online and video visits so that patients can be “seen” without having to go to a public office.

“It’s a newer way to see a physician. That’s the wave of the future, probably,” Kravec said.

Neither Kravec nor Dr. Robert Moosally, an emergency medicine specialist in Warren and central region chair of emergency medicine for Steward Health Care, said they don’t know if anyone locally has died from not going to the emergency room out of fear of the coronavirus.

But the trend of staying home concerns them, they said.

“There’s always an inherent risk going to a building made to treat people with an illness,” Moosally said. “We take that risk every day, so we know how to take measures to prevent that risk.

“We’re prepared to protect them and their family members and take care of them at the same time,” he said.

Like Mercy Health hospitals, Moosally said that Trumbull Regional keeps COVID-19 patients on a separate floor. “Very tight monitoring” of safety protocols that exceed standards are in place, he said.

The hospital also educates patients and families on how to continue adhering to safety precautions when discharged.

“We’re aware of that fear. We’re ready to care for you and we will keep you safe,” Moosally said.

In early March, people were told to stay home for minor issues. That, Moosally said, was meant to distinguish between things such as the common sniffles as opposed to chest pains.

“We’re trying to impress on people that if you have trouble breathing or you have deteriorating health, you need to get to the hospital,” he said. “People should not stay home when they’re sick.”

bcole@tribtoday.com

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