Dr. Joe Johnsey

While those of us who call northeast Mississippi home have never felt the concept of the 100-year flood as intimately as our fellow citizens of Mississippi Delta, we are in close enough proximity to be familiar with the concept. I recall in college when there was such an event that struck the Mississippi River Valley. I recall the changes it forced in some areas. Some lives were forever altered.

In medicine we are experiencing our “100-year flood” event. The last time our world felt something as intense as this was just over 100 years ago with the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. Like that pandemic, this one is something we were not prepared for. Therefore, we had to, in a way, respond with “excessive force” to be sure that we could manage the crisis. We enacted measures never seen before in the U.S. Masks have now become commonplace and restaurants, for a time, became a memory.

In addition, we asked everyone to stay at home. The desire was simple. We did not know how infective and dangerous this virus was. We heard horror stories from Italy and Spain and we worried that our friends and families and neighbors would face the same fate.

So we desired that, as much as possible, everyone would stay at home and stay safe and disease-free. The public honored that request in a more impressive manner than most anyone anticipated. We in the health care field were given time and opportunity to rally our resources and plan for a predicted wave of coronavirus-infected patients. Thankfully in this area, patients came in more of a trickle than a wave.

However, we have found that some took the stay-at-home message too literally. We have seen that patients suffering from heart attack or stroke are staying at home far longer than they should. Refusals for ambulance transport have dramatically increased, and 911 calls have decreased.

While staying at home has limited some of the need for medical care, we know that strokes and heart attacks do not stop because there is a national crisis. In fact, there are good reasons to believe the incidence of such events should actually increase.

Patients who are staying at home are doing so for at least two reasons. First, they do not want to burden a health care system that is potentially overburdened by this pandemic. Let me assure you we are not. In the emergency rooms in particular, we are always prepared to care for the next person that needs our help. That is always true no matter if it is a tornado, car wreck, heart attack or pandemic.

The second common reason I hear for patients staying at home is the fear of catching the virus in the emergency room. We focus on that as a routine concern all the time. We are focused on isolating patients that might have COVID-19 even before they enter the ER. We screen them at our doors or in the ambulance before they arrive and make sure we limit the chance of making anyone else ill as much as is possible. We have been doing the same with other diseases for decades.

We also take the time to decontaminate each room after every patient, but especially anyone we think might have an infectious disease, before the next patient enters. Our first desire, even before we consider how to make someone well, is to make sure we don’t let anyone get sick because they came to us for care.

We are working diligently to make sure you have access to safe, high quality health care. Thank you for being concerned about us. We are honored. But please don’t let anything get in the way of getting the care you need. We are always open for business when you need us.

Dr. Joe Johnsey is chief medical officer for Relias Healthcare and North Mississippi Medical Center Emergency Department physician.

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