Physicians at St. James Hospital urge the public to continue to seek guidance and care for all of their medical issues during the pandemic.
"We are seeing [non-COVID] patients come through our emergency department and urgent care center who are much sicker than usual," said Bilal Ahmed, M.D., St. James Hospital chief medical officer. "That is very concerning to us."
Fear about the spread of COVID-19 has raised concerns among the public about leaving their homes and led hospitals to cancel most non-essential services and procedures.
"Although we have postponed most non-essential appointments, that doesn't mean people with serious or worsening health concerns should delay getting medical care," said Dr. Ahmed. "Often these issues can escalate into an emergency, which we want to avoid. And we are continuing to do emergent surgeries and procedures for patients who need that level of care."
Dr. Taras Gulyanich, D.O., emergency medicine physician at St. James, agrees that people with warning signs should not delay seeking immediate help.
"Although we have the virus in our community, there are diseases that need to be immediately addressed, especially chest pain and severe abdominal pain, or if you're not feeling well in-general. If you have any conditions that are warning you, we encourage you to visit our ER."
Dr. Ahmed explained that there's a fine line between essential and non-essential care.
"We've been sending the message that it's best to stay home, so it's understandable that patients may be delaying their care. Our physicians are worried that with these delays, patients are arriving with advanced stages of disease, especially those with chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease."
St. James providers are continuing to care for all types and levels of health issues.
"We've been dealing with coronavirus, but at the same time we're taking care of patients with other complex issues," said St. James hospitalist, Sachin Manthuruthil, M.D. "We have protocols in place to keep our coronavirus patients separate from others. So if you do have a medical concern, I'd advise you to contact your primary care physician's office and ask for advice on whether an evaluation in our emergency department is warranted. Do know that when you come to St. James, your health and safety is our highest priority."
The outpatient clinics at St. James have a variety of ways to keep in touch with their patients.
"With all the attention on COVID-19 people tend to forget that chronic illnesses need to be kept under evaluation," said Adrian Ashdown, M.D., UR Medicine Primary Care Hornell. "We do that one of three ways -- by telephone, via computer or smart phone, and even at this time we're still seeing patients in the office. We take every precaution to keep them isolated from other people. It's perfectly safe to come to the office if you are invited to do so, because some conditions are best evaluated in person rather than over the telephone."
If you or your loved one's health issues escalate, get immediate help, said Dr. Ahmed.
"If you have chest pain, trouble breathing, slurred speech, an eye injury, seizure, or severe bleeding, call 911 or come directly to the emergency department. We have a triage system to isolate potential COVID patients from all other patients, so you don't have to worry about sharing the waiting room or treatment area with someone who might have the virus."
In addition to the triage protocols, St. James has safeguards in place throughout both facilities.
"Early on we implemented strict safety measures including limiting access at both buildings, screening all staff and patients at the door, masking everyone, installing more hand sanitizer stations, increasing cleaning and sanitizing regimens, and restricting visitors," said Dr. Ahmed. "You can rest assured that you will be safe in our buildings."
He reiterates that patients shouldn't put off their medical care out of fear of COVID-19.
"We're here to take care of all of your health concerns, and want to help you keep them from escalating. If you or a loved one is sick, call your doctor for advice. You don't have to manage it on your own. If we all work together, we will be able to stay healthy and keep others in our community healthy as well."