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Coronavirus Concerns: Medical Groups Worried People Refusing Emergency Treatment Over COVID-19 Fears

BROWARD (CBSMiami) – Some medical groups say they are very worried people are refusing emergency treatment because they're scared of catching coronavirus. Other people want to go to hospitals but cannot because elective surgeries are still off-limits.

"It was either a life or death situation and I chose life," said Shamarey Alphonso.

Alphonso lives with a chronic kidney condition. In early April she got word from her doctor that her kidneys were in bad shape.

"My kidneys were only functioning at 7 percent," she said. "It was either a life or death situation and I chose life."

Alphonso needed surgery. But it was considered an elective surgery and Governor Ron DeSantis put a stop to elective surgeries through an executive order he issued in late March as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Florida. Within a day, however, Alphonso's doctor, Alberto Casaretto, set her up for surgery at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale.

"Ultimately, she didn't have much of a choice," Casaretto said.

Alphonso said the thought of going into the hospital concerned her. Casaretto said there were COVID-19 patients being treated in the hospital at the time.

"COVID-19 is going around, so I felt like if I go, I might be one of the persons to get infected," Alphonso said.

She said before she went into Broward Health for surgery she sat on a bench outside the hospital and prayed.

"I said to myself, whatever happens, has to happen," she said. "I cannot stay at home. It has to be done."

She came through the surgery well and was released a day later. Casaretto said the goal was for her to spend as little time in the hospital as possible. Alphonso said she was kept on a different floor from the COVID-19 patients and hospital staff took enormous precautions.

"They were very clean and sterile," she said.

Casaretto said Alphonso's case spotlights an important issue for many — that when medical emergencies arise, people must seek treatment, even during a pandemic.

"If there's something you feel is urgent and you feel there's a medical problem, you need to seek medical attention," he said. "The risk of getting COVID is pretty small."

The Florida Medical Association is sounding a similar tone in a letter it sent to DeSantis on Tuesday. In it, Dr. Ronald Giffler, President of the Association wrote, "It is essential that Florida physicians get back to seeing patients as soon as it is safe for them to do so.

"There are patients with serious medical conditions that need treatment who elect not to go to the hospital or their doctor's office due to the 'safer at home' order," Giffler wrote, adding that "it is imperative that we not ignore a potential second crisis: a wave of emergencies and fatalities among the people delaying care or going untreated."

The FMA is asking DeSantis to rescind his executive order in places with a low or stable number of COVID-19 cases.

The American Heart Association is also urging people with emergency medical situations to call 911 and go to the hospital if they need care. They say hospitals have protocols in place to isolate COVID-19 patients, sanitize the facility, and protect other patients.

Dr. Celso Agner, a Neurologist at Broward Health, said that when a medical emergency happens, time is of the essence.

"If you miss that time window you're going to miss a lot of potential therapies that can revise your condition," he said.

Agner added that Broward Health — and other hospitals across South Florida — are prepared for patients other than those with COVID-19 to seek care in their facilities.

"All the different strategies are in place," he said.

Shamarey Alphonso is feeling good and wants to urge others to contact their doctor if they have a medical emergency and to seek treatment.

"If you have a life or death situation, what are you gonna do then?" she said.

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