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Health officials playing catch-up amid COVID safety measures

Courtesy Photo Family Medicine physician Shannon Martin consults with a patient via video from MidMichigan Health’s telehub at the East End Building in Midland. The telehub opened on March 19 and saw 2,717 patients before it closed June 12.

ALPENA — Officials with District Health Department No. 4 and MidMichigan Health say their staffs are working to catch patients up on immunizations, reschedule non-urgent procedures, and complete other health screenings.

The Health Department in March, began providing only essential services and offered some of their services remotely — such as the reproductive health and family planning services — while people stayed at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena in March, began restricting almost all visitors from the hospital, but MidMichigan Health Marketing Director Megan Yezak said the hospital continued to see patients for urgent care and emergencies. MidMichigan Health also created a telehub in Midland, so doctors could safely triage patients needing medical care.

Josh Meyerson, the medical director for DHD No. 4, said there was “a major decrease” in the number of immunizations given to patients by the Health Department this spring.

He said public health officials with the state of Michigan reported a 44% reduction in immunizations administered in May, compared to the numbers of immunizations administered in May of 2018 and 2019.

News Photo by Crystal Nelson The entrance to District Health Department No. 4 is pictured here on Monday at 100 Woods Circle.

Meyerson called the decrease in immunizations “concerning,” and said there is now a concerted effort among local health departments to get patients back into their clinics.

He said immunizations protect people from deadly diseases, and that public health officials don’t want to see outbreaks of other infectious diseases in addition to the pandemic.

“It’s really important, especially for our children — we really don’t want them to be susceptible to things like measles, whooping cough, and chicken pox that are still a threat,” he said.

The Health Department also saw a decrease in its communicable disease rates for illnesses like the flu, pneumonia, and sexually transmitted infections. He attributes it to fewer communicable disease tests being administered as well as less disease circulating because people were staying at home.

Yezak said nearly all hospitals in the state were asked to reduce the volume of people in the hospital, and one of the ways MidMichigan Health did that was to postpone non-urgent procedures.

But once MidMichigan Health officials saw fewer cases of COVID-19 in their service areas — and saw fewer patients hospitalized because of the virus — Yezak said they decided it was safe to open again.

She said hospital staff began rescheduling those non-urgent procedures in late April and early May, and nearly all of the hospitals within the MidMichigan Health system were back to their normal hours and operations by Memorial Day.

But, Yezak clarified, at no time did health care officials ever intend for people who need health care not to get health care in urgent situations or emergencies. She said Michigan is no different than other states that are still seeing people not seek care, even in emergency situations.

The Center for Disease Control in June reported the number of emergency room visits declined 42% nationwide during the early months of the pandemic.

Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive Joneigh Khaldun in July urged Michigan residents to seek emergency care when necessary. Khaldun reported that out-of-hospital deaths had increased 62% between March 15 and May 23, compared to the same period the previous year, and out-of-hospital cardiac arrests increased 43% over that same timeframe.

The Detroit News reported that emergency medical service transports during the same time period decreased 17%, heart attack declined 10%, and stroke transports fell a little over 12%.

Yezak said in addition to implementing safety measures, such as screening procedures, and encouraging patients to wear masks and stay six feet apart, MidMichigan Health recently launched a campaign to make patients aware of the symptoms they can’t ignore and when they should seek emergency care.

“We want to make sure people understand that, even during a stay-at-home order, it’s still really important to seek care for things that are emergencies,” she said. “We still want people dialing 911 when they’re having stroke symptoms, or heart attack symptoms, or trauma.”

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

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