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Local hospitals worried over delays in seeking emergency treatment

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NORTH FULTON, Ga. — A new trend born out of COVID-19 anxieties has been popping up recently that has some medical professionals worried: delays in seeking treatment during a health crisis.

Dr. Hunt Anderson, cardiologist with WellStar Health System, says he has seen the issue arise firsthand.

While hospitals at first asked people with non-urgent issues to stay home when the pandemic was first unfolding, that is no longer the case.

“When the pandemic was first announced and we saw our first cases in the U.S. and Georgia, health systems like ours felt that it was important to try and reduce the number of people coming to emergency departments with non-urgent medical issues,” Anderson said. “As the patient influx has currently stabilized, we believe that people are worried about contracting COVID-19 if they need to go to an emergency department. There also may be people in our communities who think that we are only treating COVID-positive patients or that our facilities are closed for other emergencies, which is not accurate.”

In fact, he said, WellStar is open.

“We are here to treat patients with a full range of medical issues,” he said. “And we have more measures in place than ever before to keep everyone safe in our facilities.”

A delay in seeking treatment could mean the difference between life and death for some patients, especially those potentially experiencing a heart attack or stroke.

There are simply some symptoms that cannot be ignored, Anderson said.

Chest pain, shortness of breath, left arm discomfort and profuse sweating could all signal a heart attack. Slurred speech and facial numbness could be signs of a stroke.

Anderson urges anyone experience those symptoms to call 911 or visit their nearest emergency room immediately.

“Here’s the thing: people will often, even under normal circumstances, talk themselves out of needing treatment,” he said. “No one wants to admit that they might be experiencing a life-ending emergency, but the only way you can know for sure is to go in and let a medical professional look at you.”

WellStar Health System has upped its precautionary measures to keep its patients and employees safe during the pandemic. It continues to promote social distancing while regularly screening team members, patients and visitors and employing stringent disinfecting measures.

Patients and visitors can likewise protect themselves and others by practicing hand hygiene, avoid touching their face while outside and wearing a face mask. Those experiencing cardiac arrest, however, are advised against wearing a facemask as it may further complicate already labored breathing, Anderson said.

“We don’t want to people to die at home over the misperception that they could be exposed to the coronavirus in the emergency room,” he said. “Delaying care during a heart attack or stroke is deadly, plain and simple. If we could say one thing to people experiencing heart attack or stroke symptoms, it would be this: we know you are scared, but we are here for you, we can treat you safely, and we can give you the best chance not only of survival but recovery if you call 911 or come in as soon as possible.”

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