Because of fears of contracting COVID-19, health care professionals say people throughout the country are afraid to go to emergency rooms and urgent care centers.
Now, health care providers are sounding the alarm.
Bethany Carlson, RN, who is a nurse manager at the GuideWell Emergency Doctors in Winter Park, says delaying care can be dangerous---even life threatening. She wants to urge the public not to put off seeking necessary or emergency care for themselves or their loved ones.
“A lot of the times they’re ignoring them (symptoms) a lot longer than they should so by the time they come to us they’re sicker than they needed to be just because they’re afraid.”
Dr. Christopher Hamann, MD, a Board-Certified Emergency Medicine physician, says ignoring symptoms is risky. He says someone who experiences a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or chest pain but ignores symptoms could end up having a stroke or heart attack.
For something less severe, like abdominal pain, Hamann says coming in early could mean the difference between a visit that includes a CT scan, lab work and being discharged with a prescription for oral antibiotics versus needing an operation.
GuideWell Emergency Doctors are high-acuity urgent care centers, serving communities throughout Central Florida. With a team of board-certified emergency medicine physicians, they’re equipped to handle all types of injuries and medical conditions from the more serious---like head injuries and chest pain---to more routine concerns such as coughs and colds.
GuideWell Emergency Doctors provides many of the same services that you would receive at an ER, but with care that is more integrated with your primary care doctor and your insurance network. Facilities are equipped with on-site diagnostic services, including CT scans, ultrasounds and labs.
Carlson says her facility was safe and clean before COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic staff members are taking even more precautions in compliance with often updated CDC guidelines.
“We’ve always been clean but now it’s even more so,” she said. “And, we’re using augmented protective gear.”
For those who call ahead and let the facility know they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, staff members are meeting patients at their cars to test them right on the spot.
GuideWell Emergency Doctors is also providing virtual visits to those with minor urgent care needs who don’t need a physical examination. Patients can still speak face-to-face with a doctor but through a video chat, instead of in-person.
And for those who just aren’t sure if they should make a virtual visit or come in physically, Carlson says patients should just pick up the phone and call, instead of delaying care.
“A lot of people are waiting too long and getting sicker,” she said. “A lot of things that could have been treated outpatient are now having to go into the hospital or just suffer longer than they need to.”
Carlson says one of the best parts of her job is providing education and emotional support, which has been critical throughout this time.
“I’ve always believed that knowledge is power,” she said. “I try to educate people about what we know and how to best protect everybody.”
She says she also tries to calm people’s fears.
“Their anxiety level can be pretty high,” she said. “It’s satisfying to me when we’re able to help people physically but also able to calm their nerves and make them mentally feel better about the way things are going to go.”
Staff at GuideWell Emergency Doctors are just some of the clinical staff at our GuideWell affiliates who have been serving on the front lines throughout COVID-19. In a recent video message, GuideWell President and CEO Pat Geraghty thanked our GuideWell care team members for “walking into the crisis head on, and being the face of strength, courage and compassion in a time of fear and uncertainty.”
In his message, he said, “These teams have gone above and beyond to ensure that we can continue to provide high-quality care to our members and communities.” He went on to personally thank them.
“On behalf of our enterprise, I want to thank every physician, nurse and front-line care team member putting the health and wellness of our neighbors and communities before their own. It is this unwavering bravery that will carry us to the other side.”
Carlson says she has heard and felt the messages from her company’s leadership and from the public. While she doesn’t expect people to say thank you, she says it is nice to feel valued.
“I don’t think nurses have ever felt more appreciated than they do right now”, she said. “Thank you for recognizing us.”
And, while Carlson expresses her appreciation, she and other health care professionals, like Hamann, want to remind the community that it is safe to seek care.
“Don’t be scared. We’ve got this,” said Hamann. ”Taking care of people is what we are trained to do. We were here before COVID, during, and will be after COVID.”