Why You Shouldn’t Delay Emergency Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic

May 29, 2020Dr. Henry Schuitema

When state-mandated stay-at-home orders were first put in place at the start of the COVID-19 crisis, fears stirred about safety and appropriateness of going to area hospitals’ Emergency Departments. After all, these were the same EDs where many suddenly-ill, probable COVID-positive patients sought treatment. Was it safe to go there?

Dr. Henry R. Schuitema, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Jefferson Health in New Jersey, acknowledges that those concerns were valid, especially during this time of uncertainty. But, he stresses, emergencies are best treated in hospitals.

“It’s understandable to be anxious about receiving medical care in-person, but timely intervention is critical for many serious health complications,” Dr. Schuitema explained. “And hospitals are still the safest, most appropriate place to receive emergency care.”

As always, New Jersey’s hospitals and Emergency Departments are well-prepared to safely care for patients suffering from a heart attack, stroke, injuries, behavioral health needs, and other medical emergencies. 

At all Jefferson Health locations — including its three hospitals, primary and specialty care practices, and outpatient facilities — necessary safety precautions are being taken for both patients and providers, including universal masking, “low-touch” care in registration areas, visitor restrictions, and more (learn more HERE). Many non-COVID patients are being cared for regularly by dedicated and compassionate medical professionals.

In the EDs, all patients are assessed and screened for COVID-19 before being brought back, says Dr. Schuitema. This allows patients with potential COVID symptoms to be kept separate from those with no exposure. Best practices for personal protective equipment (PPE) and room cleaning between patients are also adhered to.

“It’s important to realize that any potential risk of exposure (to COVID) is much higher at your local supermarket than at your local hospital,” said Dr. Schuitema. He stresses that “ignoring symptoms can be incredibly detrimental to your long-term health" and that "complications that may arise from delaying care outweigh the risk of contracting COVID-19.”

To recognize the warning signs for stroke, remember the acronym BE FAST, which stands for: 

  • Balance lost
  • Eyes blurring
  • Facial drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech difficulties
  • Time to call emergency services

Heart attack symptoms can vary between men and women, so it is important to act fast and get immediate care. Some symptoms can include pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain located at the center of the chest; pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach; shortness of breath; cold sweats; nausea; and lightheadedness. 

There may be times when urgent care or primary care can be contacted through telehealth, rather than taking a trip to the ED, says Dr. Schuitema. But, he says, it’s important to listen to your body — meaning, if you experience symptoms that would have urged you to call 9-1-1 pre-COVID-19, then you should still call now.

Dr. Schuitema also strongly advises continued observance of CDC and state-recommended guidelines, specifically in terms of social-distancing and wearing face masks. 

“We’ve done a great job so far in self-isolating and 'flattening the curve,' but that doesn’t mean we can forget about the safety precautions that have helped us get here,” said Dr. Schuitema. “Things aren’t back to normal yet.” 

Remember, don’t delay care. We’re still here for you when you need it most. In a medical emergency, please call 9-1-1 immediately.

To learn more about how Jefferson Health is delivering care safely during the COVID-19 pandemic in New Jersey, click HERE.