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Hamilton Health Sciences Home
May 22, 2020

Emergency department safety during COVID-19

COVID-19 has resulted in a worrisome side effect, and it has nothing to do with the symptoms of the disease. Emergency doctors in Hamilton and beyond have noted that many people are delaying emergency medical care because they’re afraid to visit the hospital. This is risky, and can result in serious health issues.

“When you have things like chest pain, shortness of breath, severe abdominal pain, these can all be signs of serious conditions,” says Dr. Alim Pardhan, emergency medicine site lead at Hamilton Health Sciences’ Hamilton General Hospital. “Delaying emergency care for these and other severe symptoms can allow the underlying disease to get worse. We are seeing people showing up later and with more serious illness.”

Extra precautions in the hospital

To ensure the safety of patients and staff, our emergency departments have put a number of precautions in place.

  • Screening at entrances: when you enter the emergency department, you’ll be asked to wash your hands and answer a series of questions.
  • Masks for everyone: every person entering the emergency department will be asked to wear a mask.
  • Distancing: we are physically spacing patients in the waiting area as much as possible.
  • Enhanced cleaning: we clean frequently all the time. Now we are cleaning more than ever. If someone may have COVID, we thoroughly disinfect the room where they received care before another patient enters.

Kids’ health

This delay in care isn’t only occurring in adults. The pediatric emergency department at McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH) has also noticed a worrisome trend. Parents are waiting to bring their kids to the hospital until things get really bad because they are worried about exposure to COVID-19. When they arrive, kids are sicker and sometimes require more serious procedures that could have been avoided if they were treated earlier.

“We know this is a scary time for everyone,” says Dr. Anthony Crocco, chief of pediatric emergency at MCH. “I want people to know that the emergency department continues to be a safe place for care. I feel safe working here, and I would feel safe bringing my young kids here.”

In children especially, illnesses can go from minor to serious very quickly. Dr. Crocco encourages parents and caregivers to call 9-1-1 or visit the emergency department immediately if they are worried about their child’s health. Symptoms like high fever, trouble breathing, bad tummy pain, continued vomiting, and physical injuries are among the reasons for an immediate visit to the hospital.

The bottom line on emergency care

“We want people to know that our emergency departments are safe,” says Dr. Pardhan. “The potential risks of delaying an emergency visit far outweigh the risk of exposure to COVID-19. We are here to take care of you, and are taking every possible precaution.”

If you need emergency medical attention, call 9-1-1 or visit your closest emergency department. Visit needadoc.ca to learn about options for different levels of care.

You can view average wait times for emergency departments and urgent care across Hamilton at https://www.hamiltonemergencywaittimes.ca/.