ARLINGTON, Texas — Caregivers with Texas Health Resources are urging people with serious medical conditions, including heart attacks and strokes, to seek immediate medical care at emergency rooms or by calling 911 during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re speaking out because new data show people may be avoiding hospitals out of fear of the new coronavirus, and that could lead to complications and death in some cases.
People may be waiting and waiting with chest pain or other symptoms and calling 911 later than they normally would have, says Terence McCarthy, M.D.
“To control the spread of COVID-19, millions of North Texans have embraced the idea that we’re safer at home — but not if you’re having a serious medical condition,” said Mary Robinson, PhD, R.N., NEA-BC, Reliable Health chief nursing officer of Texas Health. “People should not hesitate to go to the ER or call 911 if they’re having what they think is an emergency. ERs have the supplies, staff and expertise to care for people and do it safely during this pandemic.”
Texas Health has seen a decline in ER patients not related to COVID-19, and local EMS providers have seen a decrease in people calling 911. And when 911 is called, there is an increase in people declining transport for definitive hospital care, likely due to fears of being exposed to the new coronavirus.
At a time when overall 911 call volume is decreasing, MedStar, which provides ambulance service in the Tarrant County area, responded to 12 percent more cardiac arrest calls in March 2020 compared to March 2019, according to the EMS provider. So far in April, crews responded to 38 percent more cardiac arrests than in April 2019. Among patients found to be in cardiac arrest, 54 percent more patients were pronounced dead on scene by MedStar crews in April 2020 than in April 2019.
“This tells me people may be waiting and waiting with chest pain or other symptoms and calling 911 later than they normally would have,” said Terence McCarthy, M.D., director of emergency medicine and a physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. “Don’t delay getting to an emergency room because it could save your life. We don’t want people to forget that because of the stay-at-home guidelines.”
According to the American Hospital Association, stay-at-home orders have led to a decrease in patients seeking emergency care for conditions other than COVID-19. This is partially due to fewer car accidents and other injuries because people are at home for longer periods of time.
“The decrease in traumatic injuries makes sense, but a decrease in medical conditions does not,” McCarthy added. “I fear some people might not be getting to the pharmacy and taking their regular medications like they should, and medical issues might actually be going up. I especially worry about people with existing conditions and older adults.”
Texas Health and other health systems are taking extra safety measures to protect patients and staff from possible exposure to COVID-19. Many ERs have been divided into two sections to limit the spread of COVID-19. And within the hospitals, inpatients with COVID-19 or other viruses are separated from patients with other medical conditions.
“Sadly, national and local reports suggest people are staying home even in the face of medical emergencies,” said Kami Banks, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.C., a cardiologist on the medical staffs at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano, Allen and Frisco, and a member of Presbyterian Heart and Vascular Group, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. She also served as chair of medicine at Texas Health Allen.
“Many people are now hesitant to call 911 because of fears of contracting the new coronavirus at the hospital and this is leading to higher death rates at home. We want the community to know that we have the supplies, equipment and expertise to care for them through their medical crisis while protecting them from the new coronavirus."
“I can’t stress enough how important it is to not ignore chest pain, shortness of breath or one-sided weakness, especially if you have a pre-existing cardiac condition,” Banks said.
About Texas Health Resources
Texas Health Resources is a faith-based, nonprofit health system that cares for more patients in North Texas than any other provider. With a service area that consists of 16 counties and more than 7 million people, the system is committed to providing quality, coordinated care through its Texas Health Physicians Group and 29 hospital locations under the banners of Texas Health Presbyterian, Texas Health Arlington Memorial, Texas Health Harris Methodist and Texas Health Huguley. Texas Health access points and services, ranging from acute-care hospitals and trauma centers to outpatient facilities and home health and preventive services, provide the full continuum of care for all stages of life. The system has more than 4,100 licensed hospital beds, 6,400 physicians with active staff privileges and more than 26,000 employees. For more information about Texas Health, call 1-877-THR-WELL, or visit www.TexasHealth.org.