Hospital executives around Greater Cincinnati on Friday stated hospitals in the region are safe, and had always been safe, places for people to seek aid for medical emergencies. NICK GRAHAM/FILE

‘Heart attacks and strokes don’t stop’: Hospital officials stress safety as visits drop

Hospitals executives say the threat of coronavirus should not prevent a person seeking help at an emergency department.

“Heart attacks and strokes don’t stop during a pandemic,” said Dr. Darin Pangalangan, emergency medicine physician and chair of Premier Health’s Emergency and Trauma Institute. “We are seeing significant decreases in the number of patients presenting for emergency care because they are fearful of being exposed to COVID-19. This is becoming a public health concern.”

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Greater Cincinnati’s The Health Collaborative also addressed the issue of people not seeking medical attention during the pandemic.

“An emergency is an emergency,” said Dr. Evie Alessandrini, UC Health’s chief medical officer. “If individuals in our community are having symptoms of a stroke or a heart attack, we are here, we are safe, we are ready.”

That mantra was echoed by a number of top doctors and executives at Greater Cincinnati hospitals during a virtual town hall Friday hosted by the collaborative.

One person dies from heart disease every 37 seconds, which equates to about 647,000 people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But people are not seeking medical treatment, according to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) and Premier Health.

An April study in the JACC showed a 38 percent decline after March 1 in hospital admissions for ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI), a type of heart attack in which one of the heart’s major arteries is blocked.

Premier Health saw a “significant decline” in people seeking treatment for both strokes and severe heart events, according to the hospital network.

Health experts say seeking medical treatment at the onset of heart or stroke symptoms saves lives.

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With all the newer COVID-19 protocols put in place, “it has never been safer than it is today,” said Dr. Michael Jennings, vice president & chief clinical officer of The Christ Hospital Health Network.

That’s in part, said TriHealth Physician Partners President Brian Strayder, because the anticipated surge didn’t happen “largely because of the leadership of our state.”

“The surge was less than a surge and more of a ripplet, and we hope it continues to be that way,” he said.

For those who had elective surgical procedures delayed because of the pandemic, doctors and hospital officials say they should expect calls about scheduling appointments, or patients should call their doctors. The delays were to help reallocate hospital and medical resources to addressing the pandemic, including personal protective equipment and hospital beds, UC Health President and CEO Dr. Richard Lofgren said earlier this month.

“We know that our patients and community members continue to need medical care, and we are committed to a responsible return to providing this care in a safe environment,” he said.

As Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has lifted restrictions on elective surgeries, Mercy Health Vice President of Medical Affairs Steve Feagins said, “If you’ve had a procedure postponed, expect a call.”

When going to the hospital for an emergency, “don’t hesitate to ask questions,” said Alessandrini. It should also be expected to come to the hospital with a cloth mask and be screened.

And don’t be in a hurry, said Dr. Roberto Colon, system vice president of quality and safety at Premier Health.

“Expect unexpected delays during their stay,” he said. “One of the things that we are seeing now is because of the safety mechanisms that all of our hospitals have developed, it’s not necessarily as easy and quick to move from one area of the hospital to the other.”

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