The change in how we’re living these days is intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic has closed most non-essential businesses, more people are working from home, and social distancing has replaced shaking hands and hugs.
But our “new normal” has also had an unintended effect: Many people experiencing symptoms of a life-threatening illness are delaying treatment at their local emergency department for fear of contracting COVID-19.
The decision to wait, says Dr. Lawrence Isaacs, medical director of the emergency department at Gulf Coast Medical Center, could cost them their lives.
“Symptoms of a heart attack, stroke or bleeding in the brain should be treated immediately,” Dr. Isaacs says. “In patients with these types of medical emergencies, the sooner they can receive treatment, the better their outcome. Time really is of the essence.”
Dr. Isaacs stresses that patient safety remains a fundamental priority at Lee Health, and the pandemic hasn’t changed this commitment.
If anything, he says, it has further strengthened it. In February, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recognized Gulf Coast Medical Center for its level of patient safety and care. The center was among four Lee Health patient facilities acknowledged by CMS in its 2020 Five-Star Quality Ratings.
“For COVID-19, we’ve heightened precaution and safety measures at all Lee Health facilities,” Dr. Isaacs says. “We continue to follow the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in health care and emergency medical service settings.”
That means wearing, gloves, gowns, maintaining social distancing when possible, disinfecting and cleaning patient and work areas, and practicing hand hygiene. “We are relentless about following these precautions because we know they work,” Dr. Isaacs says.
Dr. Isaacs explains that you’ll be screened through a series of questions about symptoms such as shortness of breath, a new cough, and if you have a fever. At each facility, a greeter (who is wearing gloves and a mask) will approach you and ask those questions.
“All patients will be required to wear masks,” says Dr. Isaacs. “Then, it’s on to a triage nurse for further COVID-19 assessment.”
If the nurse suspects you might have COVID-19, we will direct you to the right place for emergency treatment and further evaluation for suspected COVID-19.
Dr. Isaacs stresses that patients with appendicitis and other serious health conditions unrelated to the pandemic, especially with symptoms associated with time-sensitive conditions such as heart attack, stroke or a brain issue, should seek emergency treatment immediately.
“Don’t let the fear of coronavirus keep you from receiving emergency medical care. We’re here for you no matter what your health crisis might be, COVID-19 or not.”
Dr. Isaacs notes that because fewer people are going to the emergency department, treatment wait times are shorter than usual, too. “It’s triage as normal, really,” he says. “The expert level of care we provide hasn’t changed. Just the way we look. Everyone’s wearing masks and gowns.”
Lee Health emergency departments treat severe and life-threatening conditions including severe pain, broken bones, breathing trouble, chest pain and stroke.