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There are some realities in the Colorado Springs area that Dr. David Steinbruner wishes more people knew. The infection curve from COVID-19 is flattening, and if you are in need of emergency medical attention, the emergency room is a safe place to go and for the last couple of weeks it hasn’t been very busy.
There have been stories in the news all week reminding people that even as we wrap up the last few days of our state’s stay-at-home order, do not ignore medical emergencies.
As part of his duties over the last few weeks, Dr. Steinbruner, who is the associate chief medical officer at UCHealth Memorial Central Hospital has been working in the emergency room. He says, “We went from seeing maybe 245 to 265 people a day down to 120 to 145 people a day.”
You might think during a pandemic, that traffic in the emergency room being down is great news, but Dr. Steinbruner says it’s been a double edge sword. While they are seeing fewer people and very few in the emergency room with COVID-19, the patients they are seeing are more often in real trouble. “In about the last week or two, we have seen a bump in both more severe cases coming, in because people are waiting too long and also we've seen more mental health issues too, it's all really taking a toll on people.”
Whether it’s fear of contracting coronavirus or a fear that the hospital is overwhelmed caring for COVID-19 patients Dr. Steinbruner wants people to know neither is the case right now. “I want people to understand that we appreciate what they have done, to stay at home as much as possible, but that does not mean that they shouldn't come into the emergency department for things that might be emergent conditions. By coming in they are not going to take a spot from somebody else, and they're not going to use up resources that we don't have. We're being very thoughtful about how we use our PPE (personal protective equipment) and we are very thoughtful about how we take care of people. We're open for business and it's really important that people come in and make sure that those serious conditions get taken care of in a timely fashion.”
What type of conditions is Dr. Steinbruner referring to? He says, “If you have something like abdominal pain or chest pain that could be life-threatening or could get worse - you don’t want to wait.”
Sadly, people in just the last couple of weeks, with those exact symptoms have waited too long to come in. They are the cases Dr. Steinbruner and his colleagues have seen first hand. “We've had cases where people waited too long and their appendix has ruptured. We’ve had cases where people waited out a stroke because they were worried about getting COVID-19, and they ended up having a stroke we couldn't fix. We’ve had people who had chest pain that was actually a heart attack, and they came in too late for us to do as much as we could with that heart attack to help them.”
None of this is to downplay the seriousness of COVID-19 and the many steps UCHealth Memorial has taken to be prepared if there is a spike in cases. It’s been a major undertaking but Dr. Steinbruner tells me, that's what they do. They deal with major medical issues, every day and they want to make sure they are addressing the major medical issues hitting people in our community right now, even if it’s not COVID-19.
If it’s someone’s fear of coming in contact with coronavirus that is keeping them away Dr. Steinbruner says, “It's really important people don't wait to come in. Our hospitals are open and ready for you. One of the safest places to avoid COVID-19 is in the hospital because we are aware of it, we are conscious of it, we wear the right PPE and we work to make sure no one gets infected. It's much more likely that you will be at the grocery store and get exposed to COVID-19 than being here in the emergency department.”
At Memorial right now not only is traffic down in the emergency room, and the amount of COVID-19 patients coming is down, but so far their staff has been able to practice infection control at a very high level. Dr. Steinbruner says, “We have no members of our emergency room staff right now, either doctors or nurses or our E.V.S. (environmental services) who are the ones cleaning the rooms that have been infected with COVID-19. That tells you that we are using pretty good precautions.”
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