- The Washington Times
Monday, May 11, 2020

The Maryland Hospital Association has launched a public service campaign to encourage people to visit hospitals for emergencies, concerned that the coronavirus has scared would-be patients from seeking treatment at medical centers.

The campaign tells Marylanders that hospitals are “safe, ready and waiting” for them to come in for care.

“We think this is often attributed to a belief that hospitals are overwhelmed, which they are not, or to fear of contracting the COVID-19 infection if one enters a hospital facility, which is not a well-founded fear,” association President and CEO Bob Atlas said. “Hospitals are safe, they are ready, and they have the room and the capability to take on emergency care of all stripes.”

It’s not just a local issue. A poll conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians found that 29% of Americans are avoiding or postponing medical care due to fear of catching the coronavirus in a hospital or similar facility.

And eight health organizations, including the American Heart Association and the Association of Black Cardiologists, issued a joint statement in April reminding Americans that “calling 911 immediately is still your best chance of surviving or saving a life.”

Though some types of emergencies have a logical reason for dropping off — like decreased incidence of car accidents due to stay-at-home orders and less travel — it’s unlikely that heart attacks, strokes and broken bones are actually down across Maryland and the country.

The Maryland Hospital Association (MHA) says it believes such incidents are happening at similar rates, but fewer people are choosing to go to an emergency room and are suffering as a result.

An MHA spokesperson said the association did not have data for all hospitals in the state, but one hospital reported a 57.6% decrease in emergency department visits in April compared to the same period a year ago. It saw a 51.4% drop in visits related to heart and vascular disease, 65.7% fewer visits related to gastric disease and even 41.5% fewer cancer-related visits.

“We’re seeing hospital emergency department utilization at about less than 40% capacity on average, some higher, some lower,” Mr. Atlas said. “But nobody is full and everybody is noting the major dropoff. That’s concerning for the benefit of the people of our state. We want them to get care that is necessary, and they should not hesitate to seek care as they would in other circumstances.”

The MHA has shared its public service materials with the state’s hospitals, informed legislators to pass them along to constituents and started a social media push.

“‘Safe, ready and waiting’ is simply a simple way of expressing what hospitals are about at this time,” Mr. Atlas said. “We are safe, in that people can come and not worry about contracting an infection from another patient or a staff person. We are ready, in that the capabilities are there, the capacity is there. And we’re waiting, in that we’re open 24/7, 365 and available for anybody.”

The hospital associations in California and Kentucky launched similar campaigns this month with the same “safe, ready, waiting” slogan.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also allowed elective surgeries to resume as of last week, another sign that health care experts believe hospital environments are safer and better equipped at this point of the pandemic.

If patients are still concerned, health care workers say patients can advocate for themselves by asking their doctor if a hospital has COVID-19 patients and whether it’s following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Facilities are supposed to screen patients for fever, cough and difficulty breathing before they enter, and personnel must have personal protective equipment before coming in contact with COVID-19 patients.

Mr. Atlas added that non-coronavirus patients “will be steered to a point of entry that will separate them from any possible COVID patients.”

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