Health officials urge people to get vaccinated, seek appropriate care, limit emergency room visits

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 10:59 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Hospitals and EMS agencies from central, southside and southwest Virginia came together Thursday to make an urgent appeal.

“While we are not new to collaboration, what is new to us, however, is the current sense of urgency,” said Carilion Clinic’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Patrice Weiss.

She joined representatives of Centra Health, LewisGale Regional Health System, Sovah Health and a dozen EMS agencies for the news conference Thursday morning.

They described a surge that’s different this time around. As the numbers continue to rise, they are seeing patients who are younger, sicker and are spending more time in the hospital.

Since July, Carilion Clinic has admitted 830 COVID patients. More than 80% had not received a vaccine.

“It’s our job to take care of all those who are sick no matter the reason and we will continue to do so,” Weiss said. “Still, it truly does break our heart when we see patients who are suffering, when they don’t need to be suffering.”

Their appeal?

If you’re sick, seek the appropriate level of care to prevent overloading emergency departments.

Wear a mask and continue other COVID precautions.

And get the vaccine.

“We have to continue to reach out to the public. We have to continue to talk to the skeptics,” said Dr. Carnell Cooper, the Chief Medical Officer at LewisGale Regional Health System. “We have to continue to answer their questions, be sincere, but be clear about what will save their life.”

The organizations that took part in the joint news conference say they hope their unified front will persuade more people to get the vaccine.

Southwest Virginia hospitals and fire-EMS agencies are pleading with the public to help keep emergency departments available to people in the most need.

In a statement and in a Thursday morning news conference (watch stream above), the plea is:

In the face of increased demand for local and regional emergency services following a steady uptick in COVID-19 cases and community spread, local fire-EMS agencies and hospitals need your help. With the rapid spread of the Delta variant, COVID-19 has been relentless and unforgiving. We have empowered the community with effective, free and widely available tools to fight this virus. Now we’re coming together to call on community members to take advantage of those tools to stay healthy.

Please do your part to help us defend the frontlines:

1. Seek the appropriate level of care. If you have a non-life-threatening illness or injury, or you simply need a COVID-19 test, please consider primary care, urgent care or retail pharmacy options. To find a testing site near you, visit or call 1-877-VAX-IN-VA (1-877-829-4682).

Call 911 immediately or go to the nearest emergency department for critical conditions and life-threatening illnesses or injuries.

2. Get vaccinated. More than 85 percent of those currently hospitalized for COVID-19 in our region are unvaccinated. The vaccine is the best way to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy and out of the hospital during the pandemic.

3. When in doubt, wear a mask and keep your distance from others. Regardless of your vaccination status, follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for preventing the spread of the virus.

We are here, ready and passionate about caring for you. It’s our calling and privilege to care for community members during their worst moments. The increase in COVID-19 cases and the impact that the virus has had on our region weighs on all of us. It’s even more difficult when preventable emergency room traffic complicates delivering care.

Over the past month, health officials say, hospitals throughout our region have seen a significant increase in the number of patients. As a result, many hospitals in our region have needed to use what is called a hospital “diversion,” a temporary precautionary measure hospitals take when their current volume of patients exceeds their emergency department’s ability to treat additional patients promptly.

When a hospital goes on diversion, area EMS teams take incoming patients to the nearest emergency room that is not on diversion, giving the first emergency department time to decompress, according to health officials, who say going on ‘diversion’ is a request more than an order. If another hospital cannot receive a patient or is too far away, or if multiple hospitals are on diversion, patients will be taken to the closest, most appropriate hospital regardless of diversion status.

While emergency rooms remain open for people who need them, health officials say, high patient volumes can complicate and delay care.

Hospital and frontline providers say they are facing increased demand on two fronts:

1. Treating patients who may have delayed care during the pandemic – many with good reason.

2. More COVID-19 hospitalizations are being seen, primarily in people who are unvaccinated, and many of whom are younger than earlier in the pandemic.

A statement reads, “It’s critical that we reserve our hospital emergency rooms and rescue squads for medical emergencies. Please do your part to stay healthy and out of the hospital. Help us to defend the frontlines together.”

The above joint statement and information are endorsed by:

Alleghany County Department of Public Safety, Botetourt County Department of Fire & EMS, Carilion Clinic, Centra Health, City of Roanoke Fire-EMS, City of Salem FireEMS, Craig County EMS, Franklin County Department of Public Safety, Henry County Department of Public Safety, LewisGale Regional Health System, Near Southwest Preparedness Alliance (NSPA), Patrick County Fire & EMS, Pittsylvania County Public Safety Department, Roanoke County Fire & Rescue, Sovah Health, Virginia Department of Health and Western Virginia EMS Council

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