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“It’s dicey:” Health district leader says hospital strain could affect true emergencies

Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 6:20 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Wednesday afternoon, Martinsville Fire and EMS leaders said they’re running at “disaster levels” in the City’s emergency room.

“It’s a shame, but in this situation, you may have to try several places before you can be seen. And we can’t guarantee at this point that the ER is going to be one of those places.”

Nancy Bell, spokesperson for the West Piedmont Health District, said the strain on hospitals was district-wide.

“I mean, if you think about diverting an ambulance from a full hospital onto the next one, what if that one’s full? Just filled up and you didn’t know. I mean you could ride the ambulance longer than is necessary under normal circumstances,” she said. “So personally I think it’s a very scary time.”

Martinsville’s Fire and EMS teams are asking people who are not suffering with a true emergency to consult first with a primary care provider or an urgent care clinic. Too many COVID patients, she said, are showing up at the hospital even though they aren’t displaying severe symptoms.

She worried the strain put on hospital space, resources and staff could have consequences for the people who need help with true emergencies.

“Naturally, the hospitals want to be able to take care of car crash victims and heart attack victims and folks like that,” she said. “So, this is all impeding their ability to do that, which to me is very tragic.”

Bell said to help alleviate the need for testing, the health district is going to start drive-thru testing every Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Martinsville Armory. This will last from Friday, September 15 through October 10.

When asked how this surge in COVID patients compared to the rest of the pandemic, Bell said it was worse. Particularly, she said, the health district has lost many contractually obligated people they had acquired to help with vaccine distribution.

She said the messaging now is vaccinate, mask and test to help mitigate the surge. Vaccination, she said, is especially important. Health care workers, she believes, are facing a serious decline in morale because there is a tool to reduce the spread of COVID, which people are not taking advantage of. And this, she said, could trickle down to patient care.

“We get very frustrated when people don’t avail themselves of that, when it’s there for them and it could eliminate this kind of strain for the hospitals and the community.”

You can find more on the West Piedmont Health District’s website.

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