Fearing COVID-19, patients are delaying urgent care and putting their health at risk, hospitals say

The rate of heart attacks and strokes are way down - why that's alarming experts

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Pali Momi Medical Center treats more than 300 stroke patients a year. The most serious cases trigger an all-hospital alert.

“We call a code stroke overhead so the entire hospital is aware that there is a stroke patient in need of desperate attention,” said Dr. Huidy Shu, medical director of Neurological Services.

But there is a disturbing trend being seen at Pali Momi.

In March and April, code Stroke cases suddenly fell by a third.

Sounds like a good thing but it isn't.

Shu said stroke patients have told him after the fact that they delayed getting help because they were afraid they'd catch coronavirus in the hospital.

"This is something that's not just being seen here, it's being seen worldwide," he said.

It’s also being seen by other hospitals in Hawaii. Emergency Medical Services said in April =, 911 calls for chest pains were down nearly 50% compared to a year ago.

Pali Momi Interventional cardiologist Dr. John Kao understands the concern people may have, but says when it postpones emergency treatment they’re gambling with their lives.

"It's more likely for them to die, to have severe permanent heart damage and to be debilitated," he said.

Kao said the medical field bears some of the blame. Early in the coronavirus crisis people were warned not to overload emergency rooms.

"I think maybe our messaging was too strenuous on that side," he said.

Now the urgent message is don't delay getting urgent treatment because you're worried about catching coronavirus in the hospital.

"I think the public should rest assured that we are doing everything possible to keep them safe here at our facility," Shu said.

"You need to get in right away so we can take care of you," Kao said.

Hawaii Pacific Health is still compiling statistics that show the decrease in emergency stroke and heart attack cases in all of its facilities during the pandemic.

The exact number will be known in a couple of months. Right now the estimate is 30 to 40%.

Copyright 2020 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.