It’s probably safer to go to an ER than a grocery store now, says EG’s Dr. Megan Ranney. 

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

For good reason, there’s been a spotlight on hospitals and how they are handling COVID-19. But all that focus has made some people nervous to seek out medical help for more traditional ailments and injuries. People still get cuts that can become dangerously infected. People still have falls, which can cause trauma not immediately seen. And people still have chest pain or numbness in a limb that could be early signs of a heart attack. 

Yet, in recent weeks, apparently, too many of us are not doing what we normally would. Instead of seeking help – calling a doctor, going to urgent care, or an emergency room – we are staying home. By the time we do seek help, that cut that could have been pretty easily stitched up is now infected. That chest pain becomes a full blown heart attack. 

“We’re there for a reason,” said Megan Ranney, EG resident and R.I. Hospital Emergency Dept. doctor. “We’re concerned because we’re seeing a lot of people wait too long. We’re starting to see bad outcomes – infections that have gotten in blood streams,” for instance. 

Ranney acknowledges the message from hospitals has shifted since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. 

“Early on, we were advising people to stay away from ERs because we didn’t have systems set up,” she said. That’s not the case anymore. 

“It is not dangerous to go to an ER right now. It’s probably safer to go to an ER than a grocery store,” said Ranney, who has become a national advocate for getting health care workers the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need (read more about that HERE).

At Rhode Island Hospital and Miriam Hospital, she said, everyone gets a mask when they arrive. And anyone who is admitted is tested for coronavirus, regardless of what they are admitted for. People who test positive are put in one area, everyone else is put in another. And everyone has their own room. 

Of course, a lot of people don’t need hospital-level care but they do need care. Dr. Hub Brennan, an internist in East Greenwich, said many of his patients are reluctant to go to a hospital right now. 

“They are both pleased and relieved when we can offer them care that does not require a visit to the emergency department. While there are certainly instances where hospital-level care is indicated, we are doing all we can to treat patients in the community or office setting,” he said.

Brennan is affiliated with Kent Hospital and he said overall volume at the emergency department there is “dramatically down while the acuity of the patients being seen is significant.”

Brennan added, “One of our fears is that these people are avoiding appropriate care because of their fear of going to the hospital. Fortunately, if we are able to speak to these patients on the phone and determine that they should go to the hospital, they trust our recommendation and go.”

EGFD Chief Bernie Patenaude said his department is also finding people are sometimes waiting too long to get help. By the time they call, it is an emergency. 

“Unfortunately some are resisting going to the hospital to the point it’s detrimental,” Patenaude said. “We have people who are putting off calling. By the time they call us, they’re usually in more a severe situation than they would have been. Once they’re calling they’re calling because they’re in trouble.”

The bottom line, says Ranney, “ERs are open and they are safe.”


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