CDC Reports 42 Percent Decline in Non-COVID ER Visits

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QUEENS, N.Y. – Elmhurst Hospital, once hard hit with a surge of coronavirus patients, now has a comparatively quiet emergency department.

What You Need To Know:

  • CDC says pandemic may have changed how people use hospital emergency rooms.
  • Elmhurst Hospital’s emergency department currently has about half of its usual pre-pandemic volume.
  • Officials at Elmhurst Hospital say the emergency room is safe for any person who requires emergency medical attention.

“It’s a surreal feeling,” said Dr. Stuart Kessler, director of the emergency department. “We had huge numbers of patients in the department admitted and waiting to be seen.”

He says at the peak of the crisis when the emergency department’s volume was roughly doubled, about 9 out of 10 patients tested positive for COVID-19. At the time, hospital officials warned people who did not require emergency health care services to avoid a trip to the emergency department.

Now, Kessler says less than five percent of people who get tested at the hospital are positive and the department is at roughly half of the usual pre-pandemic volume.

“Everyone has been able to take a deep breath and relax a little bit,” Dr. Kessler said.

But with the reduction in volume, health care providers are also concerned about whether non-COVID patients are growing sicker by staying away from the emergency room for too long.

The Centers for Disease Control reported this week that emergency rooms across the country saw a 42 percent reduction in non-COVID patients during April. It’s a suggestion, the report said, that the pandemic has changed the way people use the hospital emergency room.

“Persons who use the emergency department as a safety net because they lack access to primary care and tele-medicine might be disproportionately affected if they avoid seeking care because of concerns about the infection risk in the emergency department,” the CDC report explained.

Like other hospitals across the city, Elmhurst Hospital is implementing infection control measures to prepare for the eventual return of non-COVID patients. Units formerly used to treat COVID patients have been sanitized; COVID treatment areas have been established separate from non-COVID areas; and social distancing in the waiting room and throughout the department is strictly observed, explained Kessler.

“The message today is that the reasons you come to an emergency department have not changed. If you have shortness of breath, very high fevers, mental status changes, trauma, broken bones, we want you to come to the emergency department because we think we are the best, most equipped place for you to get treatment possible,” he said.

The current hospital policy prohibiting patients from having visitors could be a reason why some are avoiding seeking emergency services, Kessler believes.

“One of the other big changes we are going to make soon is hopefully allowing visitors back,” he said. “It’s a change he hopes will encourage patients who need emergency care to seek it at Elmhurst Hospital.”

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