As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, local emergency physicians are raising concerns that Minnesotans are taking advice to stay home a bit too literally and foregoing necessary medical care.
Terry Nelson, manager of North Memorial Ambulance Service, says that even as the public health concerns have mushroomed, the Ambulance Service has seen a large decrease, not increase, of 38% in call volume.
“Initially when all of this started. the thought process was, stay home unless you have the COVID symptoms,” Nelson said. “I think a lot of people are scared to go into a facility due to the fact that hospitals or clinics may have COVID patients.”
Nelson said that despite what some patients may fear, the risk of contracting COVID on an ambulance ride is low. North Memorial takes rigorous steps to avert the spread of coronavirus, stocking every ambulance with ample PPE and conducting a thorough cleaning after every call.
Dr. Adina Connelly, an emergency care physician, said that patients can be similarly confident seeking care at a hospital emergency department. However, she’s seen too many patients waiting too long to come in for care.
As a result, she’s seen patients with chronic conditions face medical crises that could have been avoided with ongoing or preventative care. Oftentimes, those crises not only put heavy strain on the healthcare system as a whole, but are life threatening.
“Patients come in exhausted and extremely sick,” she said. “They’ve done their best to care for themselves at home and they just can’t do it.”
Connelly acknowledged that caring for patients with chronic medical conditions has become more challenging. Not only have regular checkups gone “virtual,” but procuring needed drugs and treatments can be a challenge.
Some patients may shy away from seeking care because they feel the need to avoid putting additional strain on the medical system at a time where medical institutions like Allina Health, Mayo Clinic Health System and Northfield Hospital have postponed non-essential procedures to conserve resources. So far, the state’s projected surge in COVID-19 patients has not yet occurred. Although several recent outbreaks at meat processing plants have helped to drive the state’s total number of positive cases to nearly 8,000, that number remains lower per capita than many other states.
Connelly and Dawn Steffen, interim director of nursing and emergency department manager at Faribault’s District One Hospital, credited the state’s aggressive response and public compliance for the relatively lower rate.
With the COVID peak pushed back, Steffen said that District One and Owatonna hospitals, both operated by Allina Health, have begun offering additional services to patients so long as they have the capacity. Still, with the peak only delayed, she acknowledges that the hospital will soon have fewer resources.
Even as the caseload continues to increase, Steffen urged patients never to shy away from seeking needed medical care. She noted that in order to keep all patients safe, hospitals have already implemented special procedures.
“We don’t want people to wait on seeking care for severe, often life-threatening conditions,” she said.
In addition to beefing up cleaning procedures and consistently wearing PPE, District One and Owatonna hospitals have established separate waiting rooms for patients with COVID-19 like symptoms and those without, and are doing everything to keep patients separate during the care process.
Likewise, Northfield Hospital + Clinics has instituted significant measures to keep patients safe during the pandemic and is urging people not to skimp on crucial preventative care, including pediatric vaccinations.
Precautions include tough visitor restrictions, health screening for all patients and full PPE for all staff. Like other area health systems, Northfield Hospital + Clinics has also dramatically expanded the use of telemedicine.