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Message from UM and Hopkins hospital executives: Go to the hospital if you’re sick. Don’t wait until it’s an emergency | COMMENTARY

Bree Weyer and Hannah Storch, nurses in the intensive care unit at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, put on protective equipment.
Bree Weyer and Hannah Storch, nurses in the intensive care unit at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, put on protective equipment. (Photo Courtesy of University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health)

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many of us make decisions that used to be routine. Do I really need groceries today? Should I cut my own hair? Is this ongoing medical problem something I need to get checked out?

Only you can answer questions like the first two. But please let us help you with that last one.

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The answer is yes.

Too many Marylanders and other Americans are becoming seriously ill because they’ve decided to put off doctor visits due to fear of coming to a place where coronavirus patients are treated.

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During the pandemic, friends and relatives have asked us for advice about COVID-19. We’ve told them all the same things: Try to stay calm. Wash your hands. Practice social distancing. Wear a mask when you’re out of your home. And if you need medical attention of any kind, don’t wait.

Doctors and nurses in the emergency departments and intensive care units at Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Maryland Medicine are reporting high numbers of patients in real danger because they’ve delayed urgent treatment when they normally would have sought care. This has been particularly true for people experiencing stroke and cardiac symptoms.

Our hospitals and our health care providers are ready for you. We’ve put in place rigorous cleaning protocols throughout our systems. And we’ve adopted screening and admission processes to keep patients who do not have COVID-19 safely apart from patients who do. But please give our teams a head start in the race to get you back to health: see a doctor when you need one.

In normal times, our emergency departments are busy places. During the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic in Maryland, our teams saw a dramatic increase in patients whose emergencies involved the symptoms we now associate with the novel coronavirus infection.

But in recent weeks, on top of the typical day-to-day bustle and the continued flow of patients with fever, aches and respiratory distress, our emergency departments have seen an extraordinary number of patients whose serious ailments could have been lessened — or avoided altogether — if they’d visited us or called their doctor when their symptoms began.

ICUs at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland also are straining under the increased demand. Patients who, had they seen a physician sooner, would have returned home with a prescription and instructions for care, are instead spending days and weeks in the hospital recovering from illnesses that became unnecessarily dangerous.

Two months into this shutdown, our hospital teams remain incredibly innovative, and have evolved operations to safely accommodate and treat all patients, at any time.

You’re the expert on your own health. You know your body better than anyone. And you know when something’s wrong enough that you need medical attention.

We hope that isn’t necessary. But if it is, we’ll welcome you to the hospital as we always have, and we’ll provide you with the care you’ve come to expect from us.

So go ahead and cut your own hair. Put on a face mask and practice social distancing at grocery stores. And please, if you’re sick, call your doctor or go to the hospital.

Kevin W. Sowers (PresidentSowers@jhmi.edu) is president of the Johns Hopkins Health System and executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Dr. Mohan Suntha is president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System. Also contributing were Dr. E. Albert Reece, executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Dr. Paul B. Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and vice president for medicine at The Johns Hopkins University and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

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