Fla. 911 calls drop, deaths rise as people avoid seeking help
Reports from two fire and rescue agencies found twice as many people were already dead in April when responders arrived at their home than the previous year
Cindy Krischer Goodman
Fort Lauderdale and Broward fire-rescue’s newly released numbers confirm what many have suspected: More people are afraid to go to the hospital and, as a result, are dying at home.
Reports released Monday from Fort Lauderdale Fire and Rescue and Broward County Fire and Rescue found twice as many people were already dead when responders arrived at their home in April than a year earlier, and the pattern appears to be continuing in May.
In addition, 911 calls have dropped, and the number of people the Fort Lauderdale paramedics have transported to the emergency room fell by nearly 1,000 in April compared to the same month in 2019.
“It is taking a toll on our paramedics who go there to save lives,” said Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Stephen Gollan. “They are calling so late in the game they are not able to help them. They are already so far gone they are not able to recover.”
Multiple reasons may be behind the fear of going to the hospital, Gollan said. “They may be afraid of getting the virus, or they may be afraid of not being able to communicate or talk with loved ones once they get to the hospital.”
Broward Health wants to eliminate that fear and convince county residents that hospitals are clean, safe and taking extra precautions. The health system found its ER visits have dropped by 50% in April and May.
Dr. Joshua Lenchus, chief medical officer of Broward Health, said people are hesitating to call 911 or go to the emergency room, or even schedule appointments for cancer detection procedures — and doing so could have dire consequences on their health.
South Florida hospitals say their levels of coronavirus patients have dropped significantly, and they have contained those patients in one section.
Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted a ban on elective surgeries and hospitals began planning their reopenings. Many doctors began performing surgeries and medical screenings at facilities on Monday.
“Everyone who comes gets screened, is given a mask, gets tested for COVID, and we have designated areas for positive patients away from those who are negative,” Lenchus said. “We have appropriate protective gear and everything is done in a safe manner. We are doing everything we can do to make sure we can provide the best care.”
Memorial Healthcare CEO Aurelio Fernandez said his hospitals have seen their emergency room visits drop 57% from a year ago.
The fear to get emergency treatment, or any medical care, at a hospital is unfounded, he said.
“We think it may take months before folks start getting comfortable going to a hospital,” he said. “But we are ready, and we don’t want people to delay care.”
Fernandez said imaging resumed Monday as did certain surgeries. “We are being careful not to overload the recovery room. We are not in a hurry. We want to do it right.”
Cindy Krischer Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 954-304-5908, Twitter and Instagram @cindykgoodman
©2020 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)