File photo from Acadian Ambulance.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the nation’s healthcare system in many ways. Initially, hospitals and ambulance providers had to scramble to source additional equipment, develop new protocols to treat infected patients and develop procedures to prevent the spread of the infection.

Through the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the quick response of the medical industry, our nation’s hospitals, emergency rooms and ambulances have played a crucial role in “flattening the curve.” As a result, many of the original dire predictions of infection rates and COVID-related deaths have been mitigated.

Now we face another healthcare crisis that could have far-reaching effects if not addressed. Ambulance services are reporting a greater number of patients refusing transport to hospitals for needed care, disregarding the advice of the emergency medical professionals on scene. Medics are reporting that the majority of patient refusals are due to fear of becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus. As a result, patients who require a higher level of care in a hospital environment are putting their lives, or their health, in jeopardy.

“We’ve seen a higher number of responses without transports, and I’m fearful that patients don’t understand that they are putting themselves at greater risk by not allowing us to bring them to hospitals when their conditions require transport and emergency department evaluation,” said Acadian Ambulance Chief Medical Officer Dr. Charles Burnell. “Often, we are called back to patients’ residences when they become sicker and their conditions deteriorate. If any of our patients requiring transport do not have an appropriate face covering, we will supply a surgical mask to protect them from exposure to other potential COVID-19 patients in public places or at any facilities we transport to. While the fear of being transported to a hospital is understandable based on the limited information people are exposed to on the national news, it is, for the most part, unwarranted and can greatly endanger the patient,” Burnell added.

Hospitals are taking extreme precautions to disinfect as well as segregate potential and confirmed COVID patients from any contact with other patients or persons entering the facility and emergency rooms.

The procedures range from using different facility entrances to advanced equipment and facility cleaning and disinfection.

“We have safety protocols in place for screening and isolation of any positive COVID-19 patients. These patients have consistently been treated on only two of our 25 units within our facilities. These spaces are called ‘cohort units’ and remain separate from other patient care,” said Elisabeth Arnold, AVP of Marketing and Corporate Communication at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center in Lafayette, Louisiana. “To control illness spread, visitation and campus activities have been limited, and environmental teams have been hard at work cleaning all areas and vigorously disinfecting high-touch surfaces on our campuses. We ask that you respect social distancing at our facilities and wear a mask at all times,” she added.

Lafayette General Health President David Callecod agrees. “The safety of our employees and patients is our number one priority. We want to assure patients that we are taking every reasonable precaution to protect them at our facilities, and a healthcare setting is far safer than any location where attendees are not social distancing or wearing masks. We continue screening and masking all patients, employees and visitors. We have increased the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting all public spaces and we are still limiting access to our facilities in order to reduce the risk of infection. Additionally, our lobby and waiting areas have been reconfigured to support social distancing. We stress that patients should not ignore symptoms because delaying care could turn into something far worse.”

Paramedics are highly trained emergency medical professionals. They are experts in responding to both emergency and non-emergency calls and quickly assessing a patient’s visible and symptomatic condition. Their goal is to properly treat the patient’s immediate condition within their scope of ability and transfer the patient to the next level of care when medically driven protocols recommend so. Sometimes patients do not require transport to a hospital for a higher level of care. However, when a trip to the hospital is suggested, the patient should follow that advice.

“Our EMTs and paramedics have dedicated their lives to saving others. They will not advise transport unless they feel it is necessary,” Burnell said. “The possibility of a bad health outcome from refusing to be brought to a hospital when an emergency is identified is much, much greater than the risk of contracting COVID-19 at a hospital. As the chief medical officer of one of the nation’s largest ambulance services and an ER doctor with decades of experience, I’m very concerned that people are putting themselves in jeopardy by not going to a hospital for care when necessary,” Burnell stressed.

“Since this pandemic started, we’ve seen an 18% increase in people refusing to be brought to the hospital after being advised to do so by our medics,” said Acadian Chairman & CEO Richard Zuschlag. “By refusing, many of our patients are putting themselves at much greater risk for health complications or poor outcomes. Our company was founded with the promise to take care of people in the communities we serve. For almost 50 years, Acadian has fulfilled that promise by providing exceptional medical care. Every day, I hear from our medics who are scared for their patients who are refusing much-needed care for concern of contracting COVID-19 at hospitals. They don’t understand that the risk of not seeking care is much greater than the risk of contracting the virus,” he added.

Acadian Ambulance is one of the largest ambulance services in the nation, offering emergency and non-emergency transportation to areas in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Tennessee. They are employee-owned and accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services.