Taken from the Asbury Park Press
August 3, 2020
Across the Jersey Shore, emergency rooms remain half empty. Hospital outpatient wings are abnormally quiet as demand for testing and nonemergency surgeries remain well below normal, doctors say.
After New Jersey’s spring COVID-19 surge, hospital administrators and staff are eager to get back to routine business, but patients remain skittish about entering medical facilities, particularly ones that months ago were caring for dozens of infected patients.
Administrators say that their numbers of COVID-19 patients are at their lowest levels since the start of the outbreak, and that hospitals are doing everything possible to protect patients and staff.
“It is really safe to be here,” said Patrick Ahern, CEO of Community Medical Center in Toms River. “We really need to get the word out. I worry about people not coming to us and being afraid and putting off services when they shouldn’t.”
Since the pandemic began, hospitals across Ocean and Monmouth counties have invested millions of dollars in facility upgrades, new equipment and staff protocols. Now, doctors say, hospitals are safe places to visit and receive treatment. Patients who delay care are taking potentially life-threatening risks with their health, they warn.
“The cost of the pandemic of this size is not just measured in the cost of the people who are infected,” said Dr. Daniel W. Varga, chief physician executive of Hackensack Meridian Health, which operates five hospitals in Monmouth and Ocean counties. “It also is measured in the number of people who … are afraid to seek care, and it exposed and it continues to expose the implications of delaying, or being afraid, to seek care for medically necessary clinical work.”
Patient volume in emergency departments across hospitals in the company’s health care network are only 50% to 60% of normal volume, Varga said. Elective procedures are about 75% of typical volume, he added. Elsewhere in the health care system, patient volume is closer to — but still below — normal, he said.
That means patients with serious, yet undetected, disease are going unnoticed and untreated, said Eric Carney, CEO of Monmouth Medical Center.
“Instances of cancer (and) cardiac disease didn’t go away because of COVID,” he said.
Delaying routine preventative care and screenings could have life-threatening consequences, Carney said.
“Hospitals are not hotbeds for COVID,” he said, adding that COVID-19 patient volume at the Long Branch hospital is a fraction of what it was during the surge.
The hospital also has worked to segregate COVID-19 patients, and those suspected of having the novel coronavirus, from unaffected patients, he said.
“The hospitals are taking every possible precaution,” Carney said. “Nothing good happens when delaying health care.”