'We are open, please come': California hospital urges patients to seek emergency care

A community hospital in Glendale, Calif., is putting out an urgent call to its local community this week: Our emergency room is open and safe; please come.

David Tashman, MD, an ER physician and director of the emergency medicine department at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, issued the call after noticing many patients with serious conditions were delaying seeking emergency care.

Dr. Tashman is not alone in this observation. Many emergency room physicians nationwide have reported anecdotal drops in admissions for conditions like heart attacks and strokes, suggesting that patients are putting off or avoiding ER visits over fear of contracting COVID-19.

"Basically everybody stopped coming to the ER," Dr. Tashman told Becker's. "I think fear is certainly part of it. They see these images from New York, of warehouses for dead bodies behind the hospital. Everyone thinks they're going to catch their death if they show up in the ER."

Just this week, Dr. Tashman treated a heart attack patient who had chest pain for three days before he came to the ER. The next day, a stroke patient came in after having paralysis of her arm and leg for three days. The day after that, a patient who also waited three days to seek care came in with a ruptured appendix .

"All three patients survived, but their outcomes were not as good as they could have been if they showed up earlier," he said.

Verdugo Hills Hospital, part of Los Angeles-based Keck Medicine of USC, doubled its ER volume from 25 beds to 56 in anticipation of a large surge in COVID-19 patients. However, over the last few weeks, Dr. Tashman said it's become clear the hospital may not see levels as high as they prepared for. As of April 22, the hospital's volume of COVID-19 patients was down 50 percent. 

The hospital is now working to spread the message through local media outlets that its emergency room is safe and open to care for non-COVID-19 patients. Dr. Tashman said he also plans to reach out to Keck Medicine's primary care and telemedicine providers to help communicate this information to patients. 

"We've had zero cases of healthcare-acquired COVID-19, everyone is trained, we have no shortage of [personal protective equipment] and our processes are solid," Dr. Tashman said. "So we just need to get the word out that if you're having serious symptoms, don't be afraid to come in."

More articles on patient flow:

Sparrow Hospital recommends COVID-19 patients take Uber home
Houston hospitals to resume some elective care
Massachusetts revises guidelines for crisis care amid unconscious bias concerns

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