With ERs empty, doctors worry patients are putting off emergency care over COVID-19 fears

Updated: May. 13, 2020 at 11:02 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii doctors are alarmed at the dramatic decline in emergency room visits in the last month, and worry some aren’t seeking care for life-threatening health problems because they’re afraid of contracting COVID-19.

“Heart attacks, diabetes, strokes have been waiting three days or longer to seek care,” said Dr. Vijak Ayasanonda, an emergency room physician at Maui Memorial Medical Center.

Maui resident Mary Dungans was one of them.

"Throwing up unbelievably, every five minutes. I couldn’t keep a thing down and I thought maybe I ate something, maybe it’s food poisoning. By ‪Saturday morning‬, it was getting worse. I knew right then I should go,” said Dungans.

But like so many others, Dungans was told to stay away from the hospital because of a cluster of coronavirus cases there.

"By ‪Sunday morning‬, I was violently ill and dehydrated to the point where I could hardly walk,” Dungans said.

It started as an infection in her digestive tract that spread to her gut. When she finally did go to the hospital, doctors told her if she waited any longer, she could have died.

Dungans is not alone.

Maui Memorial Medical Center says there has been a 50% to 60% decline in emergency room patients compared to this same time last year.

Stroke patients are down 43%. Cardiac patients are down 31%.

"I’m seeing people coming in with chest pains for five days and you do the EKG and you do the lab tests and you’re like oh my gosh, you’ve had a heart attack for the last five days, I’m amazed that you’re here,” said Ayasanonda.

"There have been a lot of people who’ve had terrible things happen, the ambulance have gone out but they haven’t brought them in because it’s too late,” he added.

Hawaii Pacific Health says their medical centers are seeing similar declines. Doctors across the country report the same trend.

Ayasanonda wants residents to know the Maui hospital is safe and waiting could cost you your life.

“The hospital has done a lot of extraordinary things to try to prevent the spread,” he said.

“We have PPE, we have precautions, we have HEPA filters, we have these negative pressure isolation rooms that help suck out any kind of viral particle.”

“We need to trust them and use them when we need to,” added Dungans.

“And nix nix on the naysayers who are throwing stones because this is our hospital ... my choices were stay home and probably really get sick and maybe die, or go to the hospital and they were delightful. They were so caring ... now I feel fine and they fixed me right up!”

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