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Don't avoid emergency rooms over pandemic fears, health professionals say

Last Updated May 25, 2020 at 2:21 pm EDT

(iStock Photo)

As the city continues to battle the spread of the novel coronavirus, fewer people are heading to hospital emergency rooms when they experience medical issues – and that’s posing a concern to health professionals.

Trillium Health Partners, which services hospitals in Mississauga, said it’s believed fear of contacting the virus has caused a significant decline in emergency room visits since the outbreak.

That includes people having life-threatening medical issues.

Officials said that before the pandemic hit the GTA in March, visits to the emergency department were on average to slightly higher than the same time last year.

But that quickly changed. In March visits declined by as much as 25 per cent and April was even worse.

“In April we saw about a 45 to 50 per cent decrease,” Dr. Eric Letovsky, Trillium Health Partner’s Chief of Emergency, explained.

He notes that part of the reason for the decline was also that people were not out as much, doing the extra-curricular activities that could lead to injuries, such as playing sports, riding bikes and swimming.

However, those who were in serious need were also staying away because of fear over contracting COVID-19.

“We’ve seen people coming in with heart attacks and strokes, several days after the onset of their symptoms,” Letovsky stated.

“These are time sensitive issues. Things like heart attacks and strokes (are) very time sensitive conditions where not only hours make a difference … it’s actually minutes that count to preserve function of both the brain and the heart.”

He said this delay has caused more serious conditions to form and worse outcomes for patients.

In one instance Letovsky said a younger man came into the emergency room several days after he started experiencing abdominal pain. By the time doctors saw him, he’d had a perforated ulcer and required immediate surgery.

Letovsky encourages people dealing with medical issues to go to the hospital emergency room as quickly as possible.

“Our emergency departments are safe environments,” he said.

“Everyone entering the hospital is given a mask to put on and is appropriately screened for the possibility of having COVID. There are dedicated areas in our emergency departments for people with COVID or suspected COVID.”

Letovsky said the hospitals have enhanced cleaning throughout out emergency departments and staff are well trained in the use of personal protective equipment.

As well, Letovsky wants to assure the public that there is space, time and staff available to treat patients.

“We hear that all the time, even pre-COVID, where patients didn’t want to ‘bother us,’ but we’re there to give patients care … that’s what we signed up for, that’s what we’re proud to do. We’re proud to be on the front lines, not only during a pandemic but at all times.”