VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — The number of people seeking care for heart attack or stroke appears to be decreasing at hospitals and health professionals worry people aren’t seeking help when they may actually need it.
Healthcare workers want anyone experiencing shortness of breath or chest pains or signs of a heart attack to seek immediate care. They say hospitals and clinics are not overwhelmed and they have special procedures in place to keep patients safe.
A few hours or even minutes can be the difference between life and death when it comes to heart attack or stroke.
“The big fear is that people are waiting these out at home,” said Dr. Ben John, the department chair of cardiology at the Vancouver Clinic.
John told KOIN 6 News on Wednesday a recent letter in the New England Journal of Medicine shows healthcare providers are noticing a drop in visits for life-saving care across the United States. The same trend also appears to be occurring in Europe.
“I definitely think there is a fear,” he said.
Clark County public health officials put out an official statement urging people to seek emergency care when necessary. Officials said local emergency rooms are fully operational and are taking the precautions needed to safely see patients with non-COVID-19 emergencies.
“There is much more attention paid to early isolation of suspected cases and literally separating individuals into respiratory wards and those that are coming in with non-respiratory complaints going to different wards,” said John.
Dr. Jason Hanley, and emergency room physician and ER director at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, said the hospital has experienced a 40-50% drop in average daily ER visits. And many who do seek treatment are waiting too long to do so.
“We are seeing people with heart attacks, strokes, significant abdominal issues with perforated bowels—really sick folks come in days, sometimes week after their symptoms began,” Hanley said.
Not seeking immediate help can take a lasting toll on a person’s long-term health.
“When you have a heart attack and the heart attack progresses over a number of hours or days, it damages the muscle of the heart permanently and that can lead to life-long problems,” he said. “By far the most dangerous thing you can do is stay home.”
Hanley said strokes should ideally be treated without three hours. He said each person who comes into the ER is socially distanced and is required to wash their hands and wear a mask.