By Carla Bumstead
— Across the nation, COVID-19 is keeping people away from hospitals, and Eaton Rapids Medical Center (ERMC) is no exception. Speaking on Wednesday, April 22, ERMC CEO Tim Johnson said they have seen a “massive decline” in the number of people seeking services. This worries him for two main reasons: First, he is worried area residents may be delaying important, non-COVID-19-related care that will significantly affect their future health. Second, he is worried about ERMC’s financial stability.
“Our total revenues are down 76 percent from this time last year,” Johnson said.
He explained this astounding reduction in the number of people seeking care is going on throughout all ERMC departments, from the emergency room to the lab to Redicare.
“We are really worried that people are not seeking medical help when it is needed,” Johnson said. “With people delaying care that is needed now, we could see a large surge of serious, non-COVID sickness in the future.”
The drop in numbers of people seeking hospital care is affecting hospitals everywhere, with some Michigan health systems announcing massive layoffs as a result. But, luckily, ERMC is not facing layoffs thanks to a PPP loan the hospital received last week.
“That loan will help us cover salaries of our staff for the next eight weeks,” explained Lindsay Peters, who serves as ERMC’s director of marketing.
ERMC has a staff of almost 300 employees, both full- and part-time.
The loan, known as the Paycheck Protection Program, is provided by the U.S. Small Business Association.
“We really owe a shout out to our finance team, who worked many hours, including over the weekends, to make sure we got the loan application in and approved as soon as we did,” Peters said.
Safe and ready to serve
Both Johnson and Peters said the reasons for the large decline in numbers of people seeking treatment is most likely directly related to concerns the facility may not be “safe” in terms of possible exposure to the coronavirus. But both say that is absolutely not the case.
“We are safe, and it is safe to come here, even though we are seeing some positive COVID-19 cases,” Johnson said. “The message for everyone should be that hospitals are still safe places to come and get care.”
Peters explained all patients and visitors are fully screened before coming into any part of the hospital — including Redicare, the emergency department and the various outpatients offices such as the lab and radiology. PPE supplies are holding, and staff are screened before reporting for their work shifts. If someone seeking care is not feeling well, for whatever reason, they have isolation rooms to provide added levels of protection.
Johnson said that, while some people may be avoiding coming into the hospital out of concerns over being exposed to the virus, others may just be holed up at home, waiting for things to return to “normal.” But that may not be in their best interests health wise.
“People should not just assume it is best for them to wait,” Johnson said. “It is much better for people to contact their primary care physician, or ERMC’s Redicare, explain what is going on and ask for advice on what to do.”
Peters said ERMC’s “telehealth” program, which allows people to “see” a physician via video link, is an easy and practical option for any non-emergency situation.
“For example, with people now getting outside to do yardwork, some people are going to run into poison ivy,” Peters said. “If you end up with a bad case of poison ivy, by all means, don’t just sit at home suffering; you can still get the care you need.”
Those who are patients of the ERMC Family Practice office can call the office to set up a telehealth appointment. Or you can “visit” Redicare by going to the ERMC website (eatonrapidsmedicalcenter.org) clicking the telehealth link and entering a virtual waiting room.
Both Peters and Johnson stress that, if anyone wonders whether a particular medical issue should, or should not, wait, they should simply get on the phone and ask.
“Health conditions can and will worsen over time,” Johnson said. “So call a medical professional, tell them what is going on and let them help you make the decision as to when, where and how to seek care.
“We want the community to know we can still accommodate them, regardless of the coronavirus.”
ERMC’s Redicare can be reached at 517-999-4500. The hospital’s main phone line is 517-663-2671. Complete information on the various ways to seek care is available on the website at eatonrapidsmedicalcenter.org.
As of April 22, ERMC had seen six confirmed cases of COVID-19. One staff member has tested positive for the virus but has now recovered. They are testing for coronavirus when a patient presents with signs and symptoms of the disease. The turnaround time for test results has much improved from several weeks ago, with results now available within 24 to 48 hours.
PHOTO PROVIDED: Eaton Rapids community member Leslie Long recently dropped off a batch of headbands with buttons to the ERMC Family Practice & Redicare to relieve staff ears from wearing masks all day.