Letter: Delayed health care exposes people to ‘poor outcomes’

Editor,

We now find ourselves at a point in the COVID pandemic where new infections on the island have become infrequent. The economic impact for many residents of the island is becoming their greatest concern. There are still many unknowns regarding this virus: Is immunity permanent? How long is one infectious to others? What permanent effects are there after one recovers from COVID-19? How fast should we return to “normal?” Will social distancing become a fixture in our society?

I do hope this pandemic has demonstrated to everyone, including health care workers, how precarious the balance is between supply and demand in our health care system. For public health we look at a population and then estimate health care needs: illnesses, surgeries, accidents, etc. But these occur at a relatively constant rate with a temporary crisis thrown in. And if a crisis, such as an accident with multiple victims occurs, there is always the option of transferring patients to other hospitals.

During the current pandemic we saw the very real situation of other facilities already being overwhelmed and unable to take patients in transfer. For the first time in my long medical career the actuality of having to ration care, especially critical care and equipment like ventilators had to be discussed and planned for.

The demand to “reopen everything” is today’s mantra. It is largely driven by economic concerns but also by a history of being able to be independent; we go where we want when we want to do what we want. But the risk of having a second surge is not trivial.

Some locations have already seen new clusters/outbreaks after having no new cases for a few weeks. There is nothing to suggest this virus has become less infectious. There are no clearly proven drug/drugs to treat the disease. A cautious phased approach seems reasonable, albeit difficult. No one can make every prediction or safeguard everyone. Decisions made with scientific data and common sense will hopefully prevail.

We can only hope that politicians can at least temporarily put aside rhetoric, grandstanding and reelection hopes for a greater good.

Consider that tobacco causes more deaths, illnesses and overall harm in any year than COVID-19 will. Not to mention economic losses due to work absences, office/emergency/hospital care and simply overall health impact. What is the difference?

There is a huge economic gain in the tobacco industry. It creates jobs, is supported by large corporations and sells on the stock market. We do not see the immediate impact—it is slow and insidious.

And why is this not “just like the flu”? We have had the opportunity to study most diseases and health issues for many years. And they are relatively predictable and occur gradually over years. COVID-19 is not just a respiratory disease.

We are still learning about the many serious consequences it poses for multiple organ systems, abnormal blood clotting and immune suppression.

The rapid number of cases overwhelmed the health care system in many parts of the country. And unlike a bus crash or sudden increase in heart attacks, there wasn’t additional support available at other hospitals.

More importantly, trauma victims, a patient with a heart attack, even those ill with the flu — do not pose the risk of killing health care workers.

Even with protective equipment some hospitals lost up to 30 percent of their work force due to becoming infected with COVID-19.

There was no replacement work force.

People remain afraid of contracting the virus, even to the extent of not going to the emergency department or calling 9-1-1 when they have other serious symptoms such as chest pain, severe abdominal pain, stroke symptoms or injuries.

Delayed care exposes you to poor outcomes.

Whidbey Health Medi- cal Center’s emergency department and clinics are diligently working to be able to care for your urgent health care needs while protecting you from COVID-19. Do not risk your life by avoiding medical care just because you fear exposure to this virus.

This is an incredibly difficult time. I am amazed at my colleagues for the work they do and the tremendous support by the community not only for health care workers and first responders but for each other.

Please continue to show that compassion and patience. We will not only get through this difficult time but be stronger for it.

J.G. Sanders, MD, HMDC

Medical Director

Whidbey Health Hospice

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