Fort Lauderdale and Broward fire-rescues’ newly released numbers confirm what many have suspected: More people are afraid to go to the hospital and, as a result, are dying at home.
Records released Monday from Fort Lauderdale Fire and Rescue and Broward County Fire and Rescue found twice as many people were already dead when responders arrived at their home in April than a year earlier, and the pattern appears to be continuing in May.
In addition, 911 calls have dropped, and the number of people the Fort Lauderdale paramedics have transported to the emergency room fell by nearly 1,000 in April compared to the same month in 2019.
“It is taking a toll on our paramedics who go there to save lives,” said Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Stephen Gollan. “They are calling so late in the game they are not able to help them. They are already so far gone they are not able to recover.”
Multiple reasons may be behind the fear of going to the hospital, Gollan said. “They may be afraid of getting the virus, or they may be afraid of not being able to communicate or talk with loved ones once they get to the hospital.”
Gollan said an 80-year-old man fell on Friday and initially refused to allow paramedics to take him to the hospital. Tuesday morning, he finally called the paramedics back and agreed to go.
“He was in pain and he developed a urinary tract infection. He suffered in pain for days because of fear of going to the hospital when he could have been treated within hours of his injury and been back home,” Gollan said.
Broward Health wants to eliminate that fear and convince county residents that hospitals are clean, safe and taking extra precautions. The health system found its ER visits have dropped by 50% in April and May as have the number of people coming to the hospital for heart attacks.
Dr. Joshua Lenchus, chief medical officer of Broward Health, said people are hesitating to call 911 or go to the emergency room, or even schedule appointments for cancer detection procedures — and doing so could have dire consequences on their health.
South Florida hospitals say their levels of coronavirus patients have dropped significantly, and they have contained those patients in one section.
“Everyone who comes gets screened, is given a mask, gets tested for COVID, and we have designated areas for positive patients away from those who are negative,” Lenchus said. “We have appropriate protective gear and everything is done in a safe manner. We are doing everything we can do to make sure we can provide the best care.”
“Patients at home who are suffering are depriving us of the opportunity to help them,” Lenchus said. “This is the place that can provide the medical care they need. The longer you wait at home, something minor could escalate into something much bigger.”
Memorial Healthcare CEO Aurelio Fernandez said his hospitals have seen their emergency room visits drop 57% from a year ago.
Breaking News Alerts Newsletter
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
The fear to get emergency treatment, or any medical care, at a hospital is unfounded, he said.
“We think it may take months before folks start getting comfortable going to a hospital,” he said. “But we are ready, and we don’t want people to delay care.”
Fernandez said imaging resumed Monday as did certain surgeries. “We are being careful not to overload the recovery room. We are not in a hurry. We want to do it right.”
This story was updated after Broward Health’s news conference on Tuesday May 12.