Calling 911 and going to the hospital are still safe, even during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Still, many have avoided seeking emergency care out of fear of contracting the coronavirus or overwhelming the healthcare system, an alarming trend posing a new threat to public safety.
Those fears can be put to rest for people seeking care in Iredell Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Department, which follows strict safety measures to protect patients from exposure to the virus and mitigate their risk of contracting it.
After screening every new arrival for fever and other COVID-19 symptoms, staff in the Emergency Department isolate patients who present with symptoms in an area away from others. Employees follow mandated precautions that prevent the spread of the virus while caring for symptomatic patients, including the use of isolation gowns and N95 masks.
Emergency Department wait times are currently low, and staff place patients in rooms immediately upon arrival, further mitigating the risk. After a patient is admitted or discharged, the room is disinfected and ultraviolet light is used as an added measure to help kill the virus.
The Emergency Department is also not currently allowing visitors, consistent with the visitation policy for the entire Health System, resulting in less foot traffic in the area and thus lessening the risk of asymptomatic individuals unknowingly spreading the virus.
“Don’t stay home in fear of the virus. We have precautions in place to protect you and your family,” said Emergency Department Director Rhonda Ruppe. “Our mission is to provide care, and we are here for you. Iredell is committed to protecting our patients, staff, and the community.”
Iredell County Emergency Medical Services Director Blair Richey echoed Ruppe’s admonition, encouraging residents to call Iredell County paramedics in a medical emergency.
“If you have an emergency, please do not hesitate to call 911,” she said. “We are fully prepared to provide treatment and care for emergencies while protecting anyone from the virus who does not have it. EMS works closely with our local hospitals, and we coordinate our efforts to protect everyone from exposure so that you or any person can receive treatment of medical concerns safely.”
Since the beginning of the coronavirus, the Emergency Department’s census has declined by 50 percent – but the virus has not cut local heart attacks and strokes in half. And the state’s stay-at-home order, designed to save lives and increase public safety, will never prohibit medical attention for acute or chronic illness.
One local resident experiencing signs of a stroke felt afraid of going to the Emergency Department. By the time he went, he was outside the window for any treatment.
Another resident stayed home with chest pain for several days. When he finally sought care, his blood work indicated heart damage.
Anyone experiencing signs of a heart attack, stroke, or other medical emergency such as a broken bone, wound infection, laceration, or bleeding that doesn’t stop after 15 minutes of direct pressure should never delay care and should call 911 and go to a hospital as soon as possible.
Heart attack warning signs include chest pain accompanied by sweating, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, radiating pain moving to the arm or neck, dizziness, or fainting. Symptoms for women are sometimes less pronounced and can include back or jaw pain as well.
Symptoms of a stroke include difficulty speaking, arm or leg weakness, facial drooping, or altered mental status.
“If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please seek medical treatment immediately,” Ruppe said “We are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and are always here to help you.”
Community members should continue seeking routine medical care from their primary care providers as well.
“It’s important if you have chronic medical conditions for you to continue seeing your provider on a regular basis. If you’re not comfortable going to the office, many practices are offering virtual or telephone visits,” Ruppe said. “And please, continue taking your prescribed medications. That’s important too.”