PSA: Get medical care if you need it, say R.I. doctors

A public service announcement slated to go on the airwaves this weekend features Rhode Island doctors urging people to get the medical care they need.

People have been avoiding hospitals and medical treatment over fears that they might catch the coronavirus, according to medical experts in the state. That’s leaving them in much worse shape than they would be if they came in right away. For things as serious as heart attacks and strokes, time matters.

“We absolutely have room for you,” Miriam Hospital chief medical officer Dr. G. Dean Roye, one of the doctors featured in the spot, said in an interview. “We’ve been lucky in Rhode Island — we have always had plenty of room for the patients who needed it. We obviously had a lot of complications from COVID, but we have not been full. We are cleaning more frequently, we are masking everybody, we are taking every precaution we absolutely can be.”

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According to Roye, the patient census at the Miriam is about 200 occupied beds out of 247, which is more than it was two weeks ago, but a lot less than normal — when it’s pretty much full. And as hospitals have started doing elective procedures again, about a third of patients have signaled concerns about coming back, Roye said, even as the return of electives has gone smoothly.

This lag is happening in hospitals around the state, and in a variety of specialties. Even things like child vaccinations, Gov. Gina Raimondo has warned, are down.

The state Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the Department of Health, the Hospital Association of Rhode Island and the acute care hospitals in the state teamed up on the PSA. It was recorded at Lifespan’s video studio. TV stations are going to run the spot pro bono, said EOHHS spokesman David Levesque.

“I want Rhode Islanders to know that it’s safe to seek medical care,” Raimondo said in an emailed statement. “During this crisis, patients have delayed treatment or the routine visits that we know are critical to lifelong health. I’m grateful to our hospitals for getting this important message to our community.”

Though experts usually cite heart attacks and strokes as the sorts of things people need help for right away, it’s even been a problem in obstetrics, said Dr. Erika Werner, the director of maternal fetal medicine at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence.

Many women are still coming in for ultrasounds and prenatal care, but doctors and Women & Infants have also seen patients hold off on getting treated for things like high blood pressure at the end of pregnancy, Werner said in an interview.

And if people don’t come in until they’re far into labor, the hospital also has less of a chance to help the baby with treatments like steroids, said Werner, one of the doctors featured in the PSA.

“In pregnancy, if you don’t get care when you start to have complications, your hospital stay can be a lot longer, and if you’re still pregnant, it can cause problems for the baby as well,” Werner said.

bamaral@providencejournal.com

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