Don’t be afraid to go to the hospital for non-COVID-19 emergencies, there is room

Doctors worry as fewer stroke, heart attack patients come into ER

SAN ANTONIO – Medical directors across the county and city want people to know that despite the pandemic there are plenty of hospital beds for patients with serious health issues other than COVID-19.

They’re worried about a current trend that also happened in March during the city and county’s stay home orders.

The typical number of heart attack and stroke patients has dropped significantly as people fear going to the hospital while COVID-19 numbers spike and hospital capacity drops.

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“Because they think that there’s no room for them or they think they’re going go get COVID. We saw mortalities because patients had waited at home and then came in at the last minute. I want to get the message out that the hospital is actually an incredibly safe place to be. We do have the ability to care for everyone,” said Dr. Jennifer Gemmill, physician medical director at Main Methodist Hospital’s Emergency Department.

“Overall, we are concerned that mild symptoms or TIA patients may not be coming to the hospital for evaluation,” said Dr. Lee Birnbaum, neurologist at University Health System and director of vascular neurology at UT Health San Antonio.

“Despite COVID, we have capacity for non-COVID patients and delaying can have serious health consequences,” said University Hospital Emergency Medicine Chairman Dr. Ralph Riviello.

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All medical experts KSAT spoke with said there is widespread concern about hospital capacity.

On Sunday, Metro Health’s updated numbers showed only 10% of hospital beds are currently available.

The overall capacity is a combined number of beds form all trauma centers, not including military hospitals.

However, Methodist and University hospitals have confirmed that COVID wards are completely separate from general emergency room units for patients with stroke and heart attack symptoms.

“People do need to come to the hospital and we have processes in place to keep people safe. Our emergency rooms are far from overwhelmed. We have restricted elective surgery surgeries that can safely be delayed. But anybody who needs acute medical care, we’re in great shape to continue to deliver that care right now,” Methodist Healthcare System Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Paul Handcock, said during the mayor’s briefing last week.

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Handcock said if you have chest pain, abdominal pain, or trouble breathing go to the emergency room.

But if you suspect you have COVID and your symptoms are mild, including: cough, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, there is no treatment available at the emergency room.

He said in that situation check in with your primary care doctor or Metro Health and get tested.

Gemmill expects the fallout from July 4th weekend to continue for a few more days but she’s beginning to see a plateau.

She said if the community cooperates by wearing a mask and social distancing, it’s possible the numbers will begin to fall again.

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