Doctors urge people not to delay care and say hospitals are one of the safest places

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MILWAUKEE COUNTY, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee-area doctors say people in need of medical care should not put off going into the hospital. Back in March and April they say people suffering from emergencies like stroke and heart attacks didn’t come in due to fear they may be exposed to COVID-19.

“We saw strokes that were not coming to the hospital and people with heart attacks had missed coming to the hospital,” said Dr. Hammad Haider-Shah, chief medical officer at Aurora West Allis Medical Center.

Doctors say hospitals are actually one of the safest places you could be with the safeguards in place to minimize risk for COVID-19 exposure. They say hospital staff understand the virus and know how to keep people coming in and out safe.

“We want to reassure our patients and let them know that it is absolutely safe to come to our hospitals and seek care with us,” said Dr. Beth Griffin, emergency medicine physician & medical director, Ascension Wisconsin.

“There still are traumas, there still are heart attacks and we need to be able to serve those patients as well,” said Dr. Ben Weston, medical director, Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

Dr. Griffin says visits to the emergency room are actually lower than normal. While people with emergencies should definitely seek care, doctors say they also want to continue with critical screenings.

“Cancer screenings or pap smears for cervical cancer, even the simple things where time delay can have possible devastating effects,” adds Dr. Haider-Shah.

Doctors advise people at least connect virtually for any non-life threatening illnesses.

“We can help you work through those symptoms and discuss if an emergency department visit would be appropriate,” says Dr. Griffin.

Hospital capacity and staffing continue to be a big concern for doctors as cases continue to rise. Dr. Haider-shah says his volume of COVID-19 patients have doubled from where they were in March and April.

“So now we have a lot more patients in the hospital, it’s also a busy time of the year -- there’s a lot of patients who are sick this time of the year with pneumonias already, not COVID-19 related,” he says.

Some hospitals have had to reduce some non-life threatening elective surgeries like a knee or hip replacement to accommodate other patients.

“You can only take so much, and a curve like that is just unsustainable, so absolutely going into the winter we’re watching to see what happens from Thanksgiving gatherings, we’re very worried about hospital capacity,” said Dr. Weston.

Doctors say families should be celebrating the upcoming holidays differently. They want to remind people to continue wearing a mask, physically distance, wash hands and be careful of large gatherings. 

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