Column: Hospitals urge patients to seek routine care despite pandemic worries

(Enterprise file photo)

For those who have stayed away from Saint Alphonsus or their doctor’s office out of fear of catching COVID-19, I have a message for you: “It’s safe to come back, so don’t neglect your health.” 

As with other industry leaders across the country, Saint Alphonsus has taken significant steps to make an already safe place even safer. At this time everyone who enters the hospital is screened, masks are required and available for all, visitation is limited to decrease infection risk, and COVID-19 patients have a dedicated space which significantly limits risk of spread. 

Unfortunately, as we have encouraged the use of hand sanitizer, masking, and social distancing, many have heard the message “Stay away from health care so you don’t catch COVID-19.” This misconception is leading to delayed care which has permanent consequences; as patients are coming in too late for the health care team to reverse the course of their illness or injury. 

These delays have led to permanent disability and even death more often than we would expect prior to the COVID-19 crisis. If you are having chest pain, struggling to breath, have a new severe headache, suddenly can’t speak or move the way you should; you need to be seen and evaluated right away. 

Across the state of Oregon, we have seen the number of hospital and clinic visits in April 2020 decrease 60-70% compared to April 2019. This decline includes cancer screenings, prompting experts to predict an increase in 10,000 cases of advanced cancer nationally over the next 10 years due to the delay in diagnosis and treatment. 

Fortunately, we do not have to be part of this trend. Saint Alphonsus in Ontario has a new 3-D mammography machine available for early breast cancer detection. In addition, screening colonoscopy appointments are occurring as they were prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finally, the option for tele-health visits are available with most health care providers. While some problems still require a physical examination, many issues can be addressed through the video visit. 

Currently, the use of hand sanitizer, masking, and social distancing are the best ways you can prevent COVID-19. Our health care facilities have put monumental effort into infection control, disinfection, and developing protocols to provide the safest visit possible. Now it’s up to you. Come to the emergency room or the urgent care when you have an urgent or emergent need. Make sure you follow with your primary care provider as directed. Get your screening tests, vaccinations, and lab tests as recommended. We are ready to meet your health care needs in the safest manner possible.

Dr. Paul C. Gering Jr. is vice president of Medical Affairs at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center – Ontario.