As the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the country, hospitals are inundated with spikes in cases of patients admitted for pre-existing conditions who have gone untreated during the pandemic.
“The main concern and what we are really stressed with in our daily practices right now is really the general deconditioning that our community has undergone during this pandemic”, said Dr. Michael C. Gerst, Chief Medical Officer of the North Central Region Emergency Services, UPMC. “The point is, the majority of patients in our hospital right now are non-COVID patients who have chronic underlying medical conditions that have worsened since this (the pandemic) began. “
“We have a population that was worried and scared to come to the hospital, maybe to go see their doctor, or to come to the emergency room when they had certain symptoms, so they pushed back,” he said. added. he said. “Delaying has allowed this disease process to progress and become more important and by the time they have to come to the emergency room they are very, very sick. “
The same pattern seems to emerge in terms of patients with different types of cancer, he added.
“It seems that in the emergency room we shouldn’t see as many primary cancers as we do now. It seems that we are seeing more cancers now than what we have seen before. “
UPMC hospitals are not alone in this trend.
“It happened all over the country”, said Gerst. “Limited resources now, staff shortages, and a far greater demand for health care than we are used to … can create this cascading effect in the health system.” “
“This cascading effect” asked emergency room and hospital staff to come up with new solutions and ideas to ensure that there are enough beds available at all times to accommodate the patients who present and give them space that they need. Half of the space available in the emergency waiting room at Williamsport Hospital has been reconfigured as non-traditional care stations for inbound patients, Gerst said.
When asked what community members can do to help local health care providers, Gerst stressed the importance of developing healthier lifestyles and focusing more on mental health and ask for help.
“Another patient population that we have seen really increase during this time is the mental health population,” he said.
He also stressed the importance of not seeing the emergency room as a “convenience.”
“One of the things we would really appreciate about the emergency department… (is) the responsibility to seek out those services. They take time, they are expensive and we are currently dealing with a lot of sick people ”, said Gerst. “So if you can get the same from your private healthcare doctor or from an emergency department, that would be optimal compared to going to the emergency room where we are currently caring for the sickest in the community.”