ARCH Air: Rural Patients Delaying ER Visits During COVID-19 Pandemic
COVID-19 has created a secondary epidemic across the U.S.: People are effectively risking their lives to avoid emergency room visits for other life-threatening conditions. Chest pains, stroke symptoms, inflamed appendixes and inflected gall bladders are endured at home out of fear.
Imagine a family member experiencing a heart attack at home with no medical attention. It’s a terrifying thought, but it is happening with alarming regularity all over the country. Air Methods and ARCH Air Medical Service want to remind the community about the importance of seeking necessary care at their local ER during this pandemic.
With bases serving Missouri, Illinois, Kansas and Arkansas, Air Methods and ARCH Air Medical Service have seen far fewer patients these past few months as well. Industry wide, air ambulance transports are down about 40 percent. The decline in ER visits has been steeper in urban COVID-19 hotspots, but also holds across rural America, which is home to about 46 million people (more than 15 percent of the U.S. population). Those who live in these areas are more likely to die from heart disease, unintentional injuries, and stroke than people in more urban areas.
This is concerning for a multitude of reasons, one of which is the fact that 128 rural hospitals in the U.S. have closed in just the last 10 years, according to the University of North Carolina Sheps Center for Health Services and Research. That means that if a rural resident is experiencing a health emergency and delays an ER visit, they are further away from the care they will eventually require.
As many states begin to emerge from lockdown, it is important to remember that we are still in the beginning stages of dealing with the novel corona virus. A vaccine will not be readily available for an undetermined amount of time, and social distancing precautions are not going away any time soon.
During the continued and uncertain fight ahead, it is important that people understand they cannot succumb to fears about COVID-19 that lead to other life-threatening consequences. Hospitals, air medical services, ground EMS, clinicians and other healthcare personnel have learned a great deal since the virus entered our lives, and there is truly no safer time to visit the local ER.
Within the air medical industry, for instance, flight and base crews are fully equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, gloves, and protective suits. They follow strict procedures to prevent contamination, including disinfecting aircraft and equipment between uses. This preparedness mirrors that of the emergency departments to which patients are transported.
ARCH Air Medical is working with partners to maintain the supply chain of medical equipment to our bases in Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, and Arkansas ensuring our air medical team has access to additional supply chains for PPE. As our partners see their patient load increase, we are working with them to assist with surge capacity and are identifying resources by collaborating with local EMS and fire departments.
During this challenging time, the safety of our patients and our crews is our top priority. We recognize this is an ever-changing situation and, as new information arises, we will continue to update policies and procedures as needed.
We are committed to continuing to provide the best air medical care and access for communities across the Midwest who rely on us. We urge everyone in these communities to seek the care they require from emergency medical personnel as soon as there is a need. Emergency services are safe and available for everyone who requires them.