Area hospitals see drop in visits despite pandemic

Winther

 Local first responders and health care workers are reporting a significant drop in hospital and urgent care visits amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I was really worried about a high influx in the volume of COVID patients,” said Dr. Mark Winther, chief of emergency and trauma services at Bassett Healthcare Network. “We’re not seeing that.”

Emergency department visits are down by about half throughout Bassett’s eight-county network, which includes Chenango, Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie counties, according to Winther.

“We’ve been seeing a higher acuity over the past few weeks — people with cancer, heart disease, gastrointestinal issues that probably should have come in sooner,” Winther said. “Waiting rooms are basically nonexistent at this stage. People are very afraid of coming into medical facilities. Fear keeps people from contacting their primary care providers.”

Winther stressed the importance of keeping up with regular blood pressure, diabetes and cancer screenings for those at risk. “In these times, social isolation is good. Health isolation is not good.”

“Good health care is generally in prevention,” he said, citing an old industry adage. “You want to catch the disease before it causes the damage.”

Avoiding regular or necessary check-ups may lead to a rebound effect in symptoms, Winther said, necessitating potentially longer hospital stays to treat conditions that may not have otherwise progressed.

“There’s a greater risk of COVID infection with long-term exposure,” he said.

“I worry more as an emergency department doctor going to the supermarket to buy a gallon of milk than I do going to work,” Winther said. “We follow strict CDC guidelines and even go above and beyond: everyone wears N95 masks and protective eyewear for all patient encounters, not just the suspected COVID cases.”

The coronavirus pandemic also brought about a decrease in local emergency medical service calls.

EMS calls in Otsego County between March 1 and April 29 dropped more than 20%, from 1,067 in 2019 to 845 in 2020, according to Robert O’Brien, Otsego County 911 director.

Police calls fell nearly 30%, from 8,584 in 2019 to 6,101 in 2020.

While the overall number of emergency calls did not vary significantly from the year prior — from 14,958 in 2019 to 15,104 in 2020 — O’Brien said “the types of calls we have been seeing have not been typical.”

“We have seen an increase in domestic violence calls, mental health law violations, suicidal persons, et cetera,” O’Brien said. “The intensity or severity of the issues during this time period seem to have increased over what is typically seen here.”

Secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa said at an April 3 news conference at the Capitol that New York State Police have reported an increase of up to 20% in domestic violence calls since the outbreak began.

“Women should know that they don’t have to stay in those situations,” DeRosa said. “We can help them relocate. We can help them find safe shelter.”

Help is available by calling the New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline at 1-800-942-6906.

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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