UAB Hospital emergency departments are safe, open for business

UAB Hospital emergency departments are safe, open for business
UAB Hospital has seen patients with heart attack, stroke and other significant health issues delay getting medical care for fear of contracting COVID-19. (Bob Shepard/UAB)

Do not let coronavirus fears keep you from medical care, say emergency room physicians at UAB.

“One unfortunate result of the novel coronavirus pandemic is that people are scared to go to an emergency room when they have a medical issue that requires emergency care,” said Dr. Erik Hess, interim chair of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Emergency Medicine. “We are seeing patients with heart attack, stroke or other significant health issues delay getting medical care for fear of contracting the virus.”

Hess said UAB’s three emergency departments (ED) – the freestanding facility at Gardendale, Highlands Hospital and the main UAB Hospital – have taken the necessary precautions to prevent spread of infection.

“We are not seeing many patients in the EDs with mild illness suspected to be due to COVID-19 any longer, as many of those patients are first being diagnosed by their primary care provider or at testing sites,” Hess said. “What we are seeing is patients who are coming in too late to get potentially lifesaving care for the kinds of medical issues we typically treat, such as stroke or heart attack. Don’t let your fear of the virus keep you from coming to see us.”

Patients arriving at any of the UAB EDs are provided with masks upon arrival and are screened for COVID-19 symptoms. Patients with coronavirus symptoms are kept apart from patients without symptoms. The waiting areas have been reconfigured to help maintain social distancing of 6 feet, and all ED staff wear masks at all times.

“Everyone who works in an ED is involved in maintaining a clean and secure facility, from nurses and physicians to our environmental services employees, registration staff, chaplains and patient care technicians,” Hess said. “The emergency department is a pretty safe place right now as far as COVID-19 is concerned.”

The emergency departments have begun to use telemedicine technology, especially with patient follow-up visits. UAB Hospital has created special units for COVID-19 patients, so people who arrive in the ED and need to be hospitalized for noncoronavirus issues will have no contact with COVID-19 patients.

“None of our emergency physicians have contracted COVID-19 at work since we instituted a policy early in the pandemic that all our providers wear masks,” Hess said. “We have been aggressive with proper hygiene, social distancing, use of personal protective equipment and other steps to keep our staff, and our patients, safe. The bottom line is simple: If you are experiencing a medical emergency and you don’t come to the emergency department or call 911, you may be missing your window for lifesaving therapies.”

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.

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