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Mass. Hospitals Issue PSA: Don't Wait For Treatment Due To Coronavirus Concerns

BOSTON (CBS) – Doctors from Massachusetts hospitals combined to release a series of public service announcements on Thursday urging people who are suffering from serious conditions not to wait for treatment because of coronavirus fears.

Doctors said a significant number people with serious ailments are avoiding treatment because they are concerned about being exposed to coronavirus. The series of PSAs will air on Boston television stations starting Thursday.

"It's important that people are cared for when they're sick, whether that's for COVID-19 or for something else," Gov. Charlie Baker said during his press briefing before showing the video PSA.

"Many hospitals have reported a reduction in patients seeking care for other serious medical conditions, like heart problems, dialysis treatments, and cancer treatments. We know these medical conditions didn't stop when COVID-19 picked up."

Hopkinton mother Pamela Walcott doesn't want others to make the same mistake she did when she started having abdominal pain a few weeks ago.

"I was doubled over in pain, couldn't even move, my whole stomach hurt," Walcott said.

The former bodybuilder didn't know it was appendicitis. In fact, it eventually burst, but she was afraid that a trip to the hospital might mean catching the virus and bringing it home.

"I didn't really want to go to the ER with everything going on right now," Walcott said.

After days of agony, Walcott called 911 and was taken to Milford Regional Hospital by ambulance for emergency surgery.

"That was stupid. I should have just gone, it's OK to go," she said.

Dr. Michael Apkon, CEO of Tufts Medical Center, said that so far in April his emergency departments are seeing about half the amount of patients they would normally see.

Apkon said they have seen patients with stroke symptoms who are staying at home beyond the point that medications that would improve their outcome can be issued.

Gregg Meyer, chief clinical officer at Partners HealthCare, said the organization's emergency rooms treated 5,400 patients in January. Over the last 31 days, that number dropped to 2,800 and about half of those were coronavirus cases.

In addition, Meyer said there has been an increase in people waiting too long for treatment.

"One of my surgeons said to me last week that he has done more amputations in the last few weeks than he can ever remember," Meyer said. "The story of each of those patients was the same. They knew they had a significant problem, but they wanted to try to take care of it at home because they really wanted to avoid coming into the hospital. Because of that, we were not able to provide them with limb sparing treatment."

Nancy Shendell-Falik, president of Bay State Medical Center, said the hospital's pediatric emergency department normally sees 120 children per day. Since the arrival of coronavirus, doctors are seeing 25-30 children per day.

"We have seen children that have diabetes, who have fever and fatigue that lasts for days, whose families are absolutely frightened to seek necessary care, and we unfortunately have seen some with consequences that cannot be reversed," said Shendell-Falik.

Doctors said hospitals have precautions in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus. In many cases, patients can consult with a medical professional remotely to determine what treatment may be needed.

"We understand the fear that people have. But what we want people to know is that we are keeping you safe at the hospital. We're decontaminating our surfaces. We're practicing social distancing. We're using masks, and we're doing everything that we can to keep you safe," said Apkon.

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