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Hospital emergency departments are open for business

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UAB and the Birmingham Fire Department conduct an Ebola drill at The Kirklin Clinic and the UAB Emergency Department involving first-responders dressing out in PPEs to transport a simulated patient, 2014. Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service truck parked on street. (Steve Wood)
By Bob Shepard
UAB News

Do not let coronavirus fears keep you from medical care, say emergency room physicians at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“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 Erik Hess, M.D., interim chair of the UAB 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.”

But Hess says UAB’s three emergency departments — the freestanding facility at Gardendale, Highlands Hospital and the main UAB Hospital — have taken the necessary precautions to prevent the possible 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 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 also begun to utilize telemedicine technology, especially with follow-up visits with patients. UAB Hospital has also created special units for COVID-19 patients, so patients who come in via the emergency department and need to be hospitalized for non-coronavirus issues have no contact with COVID-19-positive 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 9-1-1, you may be missing your window for lifesaving therapies.”