LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — The American Heart Association reports that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing people to avoid calling 911, even if they are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.
"People are not calling," American Heart Association-Central Kentucky Executive Director Joey Maggard said. "It's that reluctance, that hesitancy of being in the hospital."
National data shows that emergency department visits have declined by 42%.
In the Commonwealth, the Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services said ER visits are down 11.63% compared to the same time frame in 2019. It hypothesized that the pandemic has played a role in the decrease.
Maggard said he doubts the decrease is simply because people are experiencing fewer heart attacks or strokes.
"I really doubt that," he said. "We are seeing that deaths from heart attacks are strokes are going up, so these are still occurring. People are just not getting the treatment that they need."
To help spread awareness, the AHA has launched a "Don't Die of Doubt" campaign that encourages people to call 911 right away.
The campaign emphasizes the dangers of not getting help.
"The old saying is 'time lost is brain loss,'" Maggard said. "Well, the same holds true for heart muscle as well. It just continues to deteriorate until the professionals, doctors, and nurses can do their job and get them the proper treatment."
He said that is important to know because the damage is long-lasting.
"Your heart muscle is not going to come back," Maggard said. "It doesn't rebuild itself. Your brain does not rebuild itself very well either, thus the importance of getting that treatment just as quickly as possible."
Several local hospitals, including CHI Saint Joseph Health, UK HealthCare, Georgetown Community Hospital, and Clark Medical Center, have partnered with AHA on the campaign, and they're reassuring patients that they will be safe if they come to receive treatment, despite the fact that the hospitals are treating COVID-19 patients amid a pandemic.
"We have processes in place that we are screening you for signs and symptoms, including a temperature check," said Melissa Bennett, CHI Saint Joseph Health market chief nursing officer. "If you have somebody with you, we are screening that person that is with you, as well. All the providers in the hospital, physicians, nurses, lab technicians have all put into place masking and eye protection that is additional protection for you as the patient coming in so that we're doing everything we can to give you the care you need."
Bennett said the hospital is also practicing social distancing when possible, even in the emergency room and operating rooms.
Everyone is required to wear masks and all healthcare workers are required to wear eye protection.
Other local hospitals are also encouraging patients that they should not be afraid to go to the ER.
"Hospitals and clinics throughout the region have taken extensive measures and precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases within our facilities to protect patients and employees," said Dr. Mark F. Newman, UK’s executive vice president for health affairs. "We strongly urge anyone who needs patient care, from urgent treatment to routine check-ups, to not delay or hesitate to get the help they need."
“Heart-related emergencies do not stop during COVID-19," said William Haugh, market president at LifePoint Health in central Kentucky. “Heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the United States. If you think you are having a heart attack or stroke, it’s important to call 911. Our hospitals have safety measures in place to protect you from infection and seeking medical attention could save your life.”
Click here for more information about the Don't Die of Doubt campaign.