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COVID Fears Still Impacting Local Hospital Admissions: Tallahassee Memorial Hospital

The sign at the entrance to Tallahassee Memorial's emergency room.
Tom Flanigan
The sign at the entrance to Tallahassee Memorial's emergency room.

Tallahassee Memorial is experiencing the same emptiness in its emergency room as Capital Regional Medical Center across town as fears of the coronavirus keep patients away until they have no choice.

Emergency rooms across the country and in Tallahassee remain mostly empty as fears of the coronavirus keep many people away. One of Tallahassee Memorial Hospital's top cardiologists shared his thoughts on the situation at his facility.
Like just about every other health care professional nowadays, Dr. Thomas Noel is concerned about the threat posed by COVID-19. But he's also worried about those patients he's not seeing because of the pandemic. The patients who aren't coming in for care they desperately need.

"It's very concerning for our community that there has been a reduction in visits to the E.R. and those patients that really do need to be seen. Sadly, that's led to worse outcomes for those people who have delayed care, specifically those who have had a heart attack," he observed.

Affairs of the heart being Dr. Noel's specialty, he stressed that when it comes to cardio-vascular matters, time is always of the essence.

"It's not always a mortality issue, but as you know when you have a heart attack the bigger concern is not only survival but how much damage happens to the heart. And what we've seen nationally and does I think even in our community
is that patients are presenting later, they're delaying the decision to come into the E.R. because they're concerned about the coronavirus. And sadly, for some people it has cost them their lives because of that decision."

At least part of that patient reluctance, opined Dr. Noel, is the mistaken belief that local hospitals are being overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.

"In Tallahassee we've been very lucky. Some of that's been made luck and some of it's just been our community where we haven't had the severity of coronavirus that you've seen in some other communities. So we feel very comfortable with our patients coming into the E.R. to be assessed and we've developed a system to try to take care of those patients specifically that are concerned about coronavirus and keep those patients who don't have coronavirus safe."

He said special protocols keep COVID positive and negative patient groups totally isolated from each other.

"The screening mechanism happens even before the patient comes through the door. So there are mechanisms in place that continue to divide that patient population so they do remain separate. That gives that safety mechanism for the patient, family members and staff who work at TMH."

At the same time, Dr. Noel insisted the hospital has the capacity to handle more coronavirus patients, even as the new case numbers statewide are now hovering around the 4,000-5,000 mark each day.

"Even with the uptick in diagnosis as of today, we have not seen that big influx of patient population in the hospital. Could that change over time? Absolutely! But what this has allowed us to do is to prepare our hospital I think in ways that we didn't realize we could do to try to keep both the patient populations safe; those with coronavirus and those without coronavirus that need, not just cardiovascular care, but any kind of emergency services."

Bottom line, concluded Tallahassee Memorial Hospital's Dr. Thomas Noel:

"It's really important for patients not to avoid their symptoms despite their fear of the unknown, that TMH has done a good job as a hospital to prepare the community and be prepared for the needs of the community when they have an emergency and that we're open and ready to take care of them."

That means the same essential message is now coming from both of Tallahassee's full-service hospitals.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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