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Adventist Health Tehachapi Valley President Jeff Lingerfelt

Walk through our hospital, and you’ll notice something: quiet.

Our hospital corridors, usually bustling with caregivers and patients, have been unusually empty these past few weeks. The number of patients suffering from heart attacks, strokes and chest pains has declined.

While fewer emergencies may sound like cause for celebration, we know that the reality is grim. As much as we’d like to believe it’s because people are not suffering from life-threatening conditions, we know that’s not the case.

Across the communities we serve, loved ones, including the elderly and medically vulnerable, have been delaying or avoiding care out of fear of coming to the hospital during a pandemic. In other cases, our community members feel a sense of duty to avoid the hospital to not overwhelm healthcare resources.

It’s not an isolated issue. The number of hospital visits is dropping around the world.

We’ve seen our community take extraordinary measures amid this pandemic to practice responsible social distancing, “flattening the curve” and keeping our healthcare workers safe. We’re grateful for that, but the measures — meant to prevent an unmanageable surge of COVID-19 patients — have had unintended consequences.

At Adventist Health, the number of people coming into our emergency departments — including in Tehachapi Valley — has decreased by more than half across our multi-state system.

This is distressing for those who are suffering from otherwise minor conditions that can worsen without immediate medical care.

Just before Easter, Linda Carhart of Tehachapi learned that the swelling in her 98-year-old mother’s knee was likely the result of a blood clot, and that she needed to be rushed to the Emergency Department.

Linda was a bit apprehensive to bring her mom into a hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic. Linda’s mother, Evelyn Dignam — a fiercely independent woman who Linda describes as having “white coat anxiety” — was downright indignant.

“She gets anxiety getting around hospitals and going inside one is the last thing she wants,” Linda said. “But I told her, blood clots can lead to a stroke or clog up your heart. They’re nothing to be ignored.”

As soon as Linda saw the tent outside our hospital, she said she thought: “They really are prepared here for coronavirus.”

Of course, Linda and her mother were right, so let me answer this question for everyone who might be asking themselves the same thing during this pandemic: Yes, our hospital is safe. Emergencies happen, and you should never delay care.

I recognize that some people might fear going to the hospital during these uncertain times. But we should never let fear get in the way of receiving needed medical care. If we do, then this pandemic will have indirectly claimed more lives and wreaked more havoc.

Our community has done its job socially distancing. Now it’s time for us to continue doing our jobs keeping our community healthy.

Emergency care should never be put off, pandemic or not.

I’m happy to report that Evelyn was discharged in time for Easter supper! She left our hospital healthy and happy.

“She kept talking about the facility, how clean it was, the size and comfort of the room and really praised the staff for the wonderful care she got,” Linda said. “The staff put her at ease and she really said it was a wonderful experience being in that hospital — not that she ever wanted to be in a hospital — but if she had to be in one, she thought this was the most caring place.”

If there’s a message to be had, let it be this: If you have an emergency, like Evelyn, don’t delay your care.

Jeff Lingerfelt is the president of Adventist Health Tehachapi Valley.

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