Saint Alphonus Medical Center Ontario joined a coalition of hospitals across the state urging residents not to avoid health care needs because of fear of the COVID-19 virus. (The Enterprise/File)

ONTARIO – Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario joined hospitals statewide recently to urge residents not to delay care because of COVID-19 virus fears.

The Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems – along with Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario – kicked off the “Your Care Continues” effort designed to inspire Oregonians to attend to their health needs.

The aim of the program is to allay concerns regarding COVID-19 and reassure the public that heath facilities have bolstered safety precautions for patients.

“There is no reason to put your health at risk in other ways in an attempt to avoid catching COVID,” said Heather Wall, chief nursing officer at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart in Springfield.

Ken Hart, president of Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario, said surveys show many across the state are “very concerned about going into the hospital.”

“We want to make sure people know and weigh the risks and benefits. We are extremely safe, probably the safest place you could be if you leave your home,” said Hart.

Hart said there is a concern residents who need an annual screening – such as a mammogram – or who are seriously ill won’t seek adequate medical care.

“Preventive screens are extremely important,” said Hart.

That’s because early detection of a serious illness or disease – such as cancer – can save a life, he said.

Hart said Saint Alphonsus has all of the personal protective equipment it needs to keep providers and patients safe.

“Everybody was concerned (about the COVID-19 virus), and we need to continue to be cautious but we’ve learned a ton and taken precautions. We want to make sure the care is not worse than the disease,” said Hart.

Hart said Saint Alphonsus experienced a 60% decline in admissions to its emergency room, clinics and in the hospital in May.

“That is proof that less people are coming into the facility than a few months ago,” said Hart.

Hart said the decline is a factor nationwide.

“It is not unique to Ontario,” said Hart.

According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 48% of respondents said they’ve skipped or postponed medical care because of COVID-19.

“People are delaying checkups and vital care because they fear hospitals are either unsafe or overwhelmed. Neither of those things are true here in Oregon,” said Becky Hultberg, president and chief executive officer of the state hospital association. “We want Oregonians to continue to embrace a culture of wellness and prevention, and that means maintaining health through continued care. Small issues when ignored can become life-threatening.”

Also Friday, the state allocated $50 million in grants to rural hospitals including Saint Alphonsus. Hart said Monday the hospital was not sure how much of the $50 million it would receive.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-235-1003.

Have a news tip? Contact the Malheur Enterprise at 541-473- 3377 or [email protected]

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