EXCLUSIVE: Patients with serious health problems avoiding ER over coronavirus concerns, Bay Area hospitals say

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (KGO) -- Emergency room doctors around the Bay Area are pleading with patients not to be afraid to seek medical care for a serious issue amid the coronavirus outbreak.

"We're not seeing patients coming in with strokes that have been delayed for several days, people sitting at home with appendicitis for five or six days," explained Dr. Russell Rodriguez M.D., the Director of Emergency Medicine for John Muir Health.

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Rodriguez told ABC7 News his hospitals in Walnut Creek and Concord have seen an alarming drop in the number of patients coming in for serious non-COVID-19 related issues.

"People with concerning sounding chest pain or heart attacks that are waiting to seek care until the last possible moment," said Rodriguez, "because they think the hospitals are overwhelmed or they are so concerned about contracting coronavirus themselves that they don't want to come to the hospital."

Rodriguez told us the failure to act quickly for time-sensitive illnesses and injuries is putting some patients at greater risk, than even the coronavirus.

And, Bay Area hospital officials say the earlier shortages of personal protective gear for hospital staff and patients have largely subsided.

"Whether you've broken your arm or have multiple ongoing health conditions," said Sutter Health's Ashley Boarman, "people should feel reassured and safe when coming to Sutter Health Emergency departments."

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Hospital officials concede the ongoing fear may stem from earlier reports that emergency rooms were either overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients or gearing up for a tremendous surge that hasn't materialized in the Bay Area.

"We have not seen a surge so far and I think the credit goes to our local and state leaders that we are sheltering in place," said Dr. Jeanne Noble, Director of COVID Response for the University of California San Francisco Medical Center. "We started it right before we saw a big surge and I think we dodged a bullet there."

Noble said California's early shelter order effectively bought time for hospitals to prepare. So if there is a coronoavirus surge in the future, the facilities will be ready, while still being able to treat and protect patients with non-COVID-19 conditions.

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