Emergency departments remain open for problems other than COVID-19

Posted at 8:44 PM, Mar 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-31 23:36:07-04

CLEVELAND — As hospitals take in COVID-19 patients, some News 5 viewers have asked if it's still possible for them to go to the emergency room for problems not related to coronavirus.

"It’s important for people to know that the emergency departments are open 24/7, 365," said Dr. Baruch Fertel, the director of quality and operations for the emergency departments in the Cleveland Clinic health system.

Fertel said that people shouldn't hesitate to come to an emergency room if they're having a true emergency.

"If you’re having chest pain, if you’re having severe abdominal pain or something like that, don’t push it off until it becomes catastrophic," Fertel said.

However, he said that if someone was experiencing a minor injury or other medical problem, they could speak with a doctor or medical professional through a virtual or telemedicine visit.

"If it’s something that you’re not sure about or maybe, 'Eh, it doesn’t seem so serious,' that’s probably the perfect time to conduct a virtual visit, because in that case, they can help tell you if you need to go or not," Fertel said.

Some people are also concerned about coming to an emergency room and contracting COVID-19 from other patients. Fertel said the Clinic is screening COVID-19 patients and trying to keep them separated from others.

"We’re using appropriate PPE [personal protective equipment], we’re using appropriate hygiene and we’re doing our best to expedite people’s care in and out of the emergency department," Fertel said.

Fertel said emergency medical staff are "here to evaluate people, we're here to treat, we're here to stabilize, we're here to take care of people."

He noted that visitor policies in emergency departments are meant to keep patients and staff safe, but if a patient is unable to speak or the hospital needs to know more of the patient's history, medical staff may ask family members to wait in the lobby or to come back to speak with them about what's happening. In other cases, he suggested making sure the patient has a phone and is able to communicate.

"We’ll communicate with [families] by phone. We want to incorporate families as much as possible," Fertel said. "However, we’re really trying to balance that with the importance of maintaining the safety of our caregivers, as well as other patients. We do need families to participate, to give us history. If we’re dealing with a patient with a stroke, and we need to know when did the symptoms start, it’s absolutely imperative that we have someone who could help us provide that information."

Fertel said there's been a decline in emergency department visits during the pandemic for things other than COVID-19.

"People are less out and about, so we’re definitely seeing a little less trauma, a little less slips and falls," Fertel said. "Cause we’re not having sports [and] people are not driving around as much. But also, people are not exerting themselves as much, so we may be seeing a little less of some of the cardiovascular-type emergencies."

However, emergency departments at the Clinic are seeing people injuring themselves in the kitchen.

"Everyone’s becoming an amateur chef right now, so we have quite a few injuries from knives and various kitchen implements," Fertel said. "Maybe they used to use takeout before, and now they’re cooking. Couple of burns here and there, we’re seeing."

Dr. Jennifer Greer, a plastic surgeon in Mentor, said she decided to keep her offices open during the pandemic to try to lessen the load on emergency rooms, even before elective surgeries were shut down in Ohio.

"I started posting on social media that I would be happy to see people for urgent appointments for cuts and small burns and wounds," Greer said. "We've had a few people call the office and we've been able to keep them out of urgent care, which is great."

Greer said her office mainly does elective surgeries, so without those to do, she's hoping to help out patients who might otherwise go to the emergency room.

"In a couple cases, it was something I could easily take care of in the office," Greer said. "A couple other cases didn’t even need stitches and I was just able to give them instructions on how to take care of the wound."

Greer said she takes most major insurance plans but is not in-network for Medicaid, "but we can always try to bill and see what they do. If not, we take CareCredit and some other financing options, and we’re happy to work out payment plans. I would much rather see someone, take care of them and then worry about the payment later."

Greer said while she can't function as an intensive care doctor, she can "function as a darn good resident for one and really offload a lot of work, so I think we're all happy to help out in any way we can."

She said she had talked with other specialists, from dermatologists to ophthalmologists and plastic surgeons, who are hoping to help in the same way.

"I did have some basic training in ventilator management and critical care when I was on burn unit rotations, so I think with another doctor overseeing, there’s a lot we can do to help out," Greer said.

She said she could arrange times to see people outside of office hours and that people wouldn't have to wait in a waiting room with a number of other people.

People interested in seeing Greer for minor injuries can call her office at (440) 974-8577. After hours, she said not to leave a message, but to select option 2 to be connected with her cell phone.

"If people have something that they think is emergent, and it’s the middle of the night, then by all means, go to the ER," Greer said. "If it’s something you think is urgent, then give me a call. We’ll set up a time to meet. So I don’t have a problem with going in and treating people even on the weekends. If you call me at 4 in the morning, then we’ll probably meet at my office at 6 or 7."