SOUTHBRIDGE, MA – Harrington HealthCare System (HHS) officials report that they’ve seen a significant decline in the number of emergency department and urgent care visits since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and are urging the public not to delay seeking care out of fear that they may contract the COVID-19 virus at a healthcare facility.
“What we’re seeing in our emergency department and urgent care center right now is consistent with trends observed at other healthcare organizations across the country,” said HHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Frank Powers. “People are choosing not to seek care for conditions that require timely treatment because they’re more afraid of picking up the COVID-19 virus than they are of the condition they already have. Unfortunately, they are much more likely to suffer negative or even grave consequences by not getting the care they need than they are of contracting the coronavirus in a hospital emergency department or urgent care center.”
“We’ve already seen that play out for some patients who delayed care until their condition was much more critical, and they have suffered greatly in some cases as a result. We don’t want to see that for any of our patients, especially when there’s no need to be afraid to seek care immediately,” Dr. Powers said.
HHS officials are urging the public not to forego needed care at this time, saying that extensive infection control measures have always been in place at HHS healthcare facilities and that additional measures aimed specifically at preventing the spread of COVID-19 have also been in place since early March. These measures can be found on the health system’s website at harringtonhospital.org/coronavirus.
“One of the newest measures we’re putting in place is designed to ease one of the biggest concerns that patients have, which is the fear of sitting in an Emergency Department waiting room,” Dr. Powers said. “To address that concern, by mid-May we’ll be implementing an Emergency Department Curbside Triage Assessment. The goal is to allow patients to be screened by a nurse in their car, and then to be taken to a private exam room as soon as one is available. If there isn’t a room available immediately and the condition doesn’t require immediate care, the patient can wait right there in their car, rather than sitting in a waiting room. We believe this will help to ease fears about coming into the ED.
Dr. Powers says that anyone with serious or life-threatening injuries or symptoms that would normally warrant a trip to the emergency department should continue to seek emergency care there immediately. For less serious injuries and illnesses, immediate care is available at the Harrington Urgent Care Express in Oxford. Patients can also continue to schedule annual physicals and receive care for non-urgent conditions through Harrington’s new Telehealth service.
“Telehealth appointments are available for a wide range of services, from primary care and specialty care services to behavioral health. This new technology allows doctors and patients to connect via video chat or telephone so that care can be provided virtually from home and with no risk at all of exposure to COVID-19,” Dr. Powers said.
Dr. Powers says that Harrington will continue to monitor the incidence of COVID-19 in the region over the coming weeks. If cases continue to decline, he said, the healthcare system will begin to evaluate re-opening other services that have been shut down during the pandemic, in keeping with directives and guidelines provided by Governor Baker and the Massachusetts Department of Health.
“We expect that this situation will continue to evolve,” Dr. Powers said. “Our goal right now is to assure everyone that they can safely access care for all emergency, urgent and chronic care needs, and to remind them that they should also continue to receive routine care through Telehealth where possible. For those services where Telehealth is not an option, we’ll be working to reopen those as quickly as possible when it’s clear that it is safe to do so.”
The latest information about Harrington HealthCare System COVID-19 care and policies, details about its new Telehealth service, and the availability of other services in the healthcare system are available on Harrington’s website at harringtonhospital.org.
About Harrington HealthCare System
Harrington HealthCare System is a comprehensive regional healthcare system serving more than 25 communities across south central Massachusetts and northeastern Connecticut. The system includes Harrington Hospital in Southbridge, Harrington HealthCare at Webster and three additional major medical office buildings: Harrington HealthCare at Charlton, Harrington HealthCare at 169, also in Charlton, and Harrington HealthCare at Spencer; Harrington Physician Services, our primary care and multi-specialty physician group; UrgentCare Express at Harrington in Charlton and Oxford; The Cancer Center at Harrington in Southbridge, and the region’s largest Behavioral Health programs for mental health and substance use. www.harringtonhospital.org