Health and Medicine

Richmond-area ERs are seeing more patients, and they’re sicker now than when the pandemic started

The real public health consequences of the lockdown and related recession are now starting to show.

By Richmond Times Dispatch

Emergency rooms in Richmond are seeing more patients now than any point in the pandemic, and the ailments go beyond COVID-19. There’s more heart disease, more gastrointestinal problems and more physical trauma.

Not only are there more patients than before, they’re sicker now than when the pandemic started. They’re arriving at a time when hospitals are often understaffed, pushing hospital capacity to its limits, stretching health care workers thin, and creating a perfect storm of adverse conditions.

Visits to the emergency rooms in the state cratered 50% at the onset of the pandemic. Last week, the seven-day total almost returned to the pre-pandemic level, reaching 69,000 statewide ER visits. At Virginia Commonwealth University Health System, visits have returned to the pre-pandemic level. At Bon Secours and HCA, numbers are almost back to the pre-pandemic normal and continue to rise.

But now patients often have a higher acuity of illness, meaning they are generally sicker. At Henrico Doctors’ Hospital, low-acuity issues, such as ankle sprains or minor infections, made up 13% to 18% of emergency room visits before the pandemic. Now, they represent less than half that.

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