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Regional health care providers: Don’t skip needed care over coronavirus fears

Jonathan Roberts • Jun 13, 2020 at 1:15 PM

JOHNSON CITY — Health care providers from across Northeast Tennessee came together on Friday to deliver a singular message: Do not skip needed care because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“With all the requirements that we have, all the recommendations and all the things that we’re doing in our health care facilities — whether they be Ballad facilities or local, private medical groups — universally we’re following steps to make sure patients, if they need care, can come in safely to do that,” said Dr. Clay Runnels, Ballad Health’s chief physician executive.

Physicians and providers from Ballad Health, ETSU Health, the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office, CVA Heart Institute, State of Franklin Healthcare, Holston Medical Group, Washington County EMS and Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia’s Accountable Care Community all delivered remarks during the roughly 20-minute press conference, which focused solely on alerting the public about the dangers of ignoring serious health issues, skipping regular visits and forgoing cancer screenings or vaccinations.

“I know that everyone is struggling in our community right now trying to figure out what is safe to do and what’s not safe to do in the middle of the pandemic,” said ETSU Health physician Blair Reece, “and I want to encourage everyone that it is safe to see your doctor, to get your mammograms, get your blood work done and your routine exams, whatever it may be.”

Dr. David Kirschke, director of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office, called on the community to remain up to date on their vaccinations.

“We just want to remind everybody to get all their vaccinations on schedule, as recommended,” Kirschke said. “Do not delay recommended vaccinations.”

Cancer screenings and care was another big concern for physicians.

“Our biggest thing is making sure that the community in the Appalachian Highlands understands that this is a safe opportunity at whatever institution of health care that you go to,” said Ballad Health Cancer Care nurse Zalipah Cruz. “It’s important and vital to continue cancer screenings.”

Cruz cited research that found breast and cervical cancer screenings have decreased 96% during the pandemic.

“Cancer doesn’t stop because of COVID-19,” Cruz said.

Speaking to media after the conference, Runnels said he, too, was concerned about “an epidemic of advanced cancer” as a result of people not getting routine screenings done.

“Instead of discovering that illness early on, it’s an advanced stage, which is more difficult to treat and where the outcomes are worse as well,” Runnels said.

Friday’s press conference was at least the third time Ballad Health officials have called attention to an alarming drop in emergency room visits since the pandemic started, with Runnels describing it as a “silent sub-epidemic” in April. Runnels said people experiencing chest pain or stroke symptoms and avoiding hospitals is a major concern that could lead to death or permanent disability, with Washington County EMS Director Dan Wheeley saying that patients should not be afraid to call 911.

“We want to make sure that the public is not afraid to call 911,” Wheeley said. “EMS systems throughout the region are well prepared to handle corona cases or any medical emergency that you may have.”

In his closing remarks, Runnels reinforced a call for blood donation. Marsh Regional Blood Center is hosting a four-day donation event that began on Thursday.

“It’s a great time to participate and support your community with a blood donation,” Runnels said.

Story courtesy of the Johnson City Press

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