South Florida Doctors Fear People Avoiding Emergency Medical Care

When Glenda Preston started having chest pains in February, she thought it could be connected to her anemia.

Video Transcript

- Now, all new at 6:00. When COVID arrived on our doorsteps a year ago, it upended everyone's life in South Florida and across America. But increased vaccinations and lower infection rates here give us hope we are finally rounding the corner. Yet one year later, a number of hospitals in South Florida are still dealing with patient fears of catching COVID. As CBS 4's Joan Murray reports, delay can have deadly consequences.

GLENDA PRESTON: Back on February 20, I started feeling a little shortness of breath.

JOAN MURRAY: At the time, 40-year-old Glenda Preston thought it could be connected to her anemia. But when the chest pains and shortness of breath got worse, she was afraid to go to the ER.

GLENDA PRESTON: So I was thinking, well, if I go to the hospital, it's possible that I might get COVID going in there. Or I just thought that maybe I should just stay home and treat myself as long as possible.

JOAN MURRAY: She finally had her husband take her to Broward Health Coral Springs Medical Center.

GLENDA PRESTON: They said a CT of my chest, and they found out that I had a pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot in the lungs, multiple blood clots in the lungs.

GARY LAI: I want to kind of help alleviate the fears of the general public.

JOAN MURRAY: Coral Springs chief of Emergency Medicine Dr. Gary Lai said unfounded COVID fears have people putting off getting help when they're having a heart attack or stroke.

GARY LAI: We have medications that can help with strokes, but it has to be given timely, within three hours is best. We have an extended time window of four and a half hours. But obviously, the sooner the better.

JOAN MURRAY: Treatment delays are especially problematic at South Florida's five Tenet hospitals, which include Florida Medical Center, Hialeah, and Palmetto General.

LOUIS ISAACSON: Our EMS partners have found that pre-COVID to now, there have been an absolute 4.3% decrease in patients coming to the hospital by ambulance, because of fear of obtaining some other illness. What that translates into actually has been a 16.5% increase in deaths in the field which we wouldn't have before.

JOAN MURRAY: Tenet's head said that's despite the number of COVID patients dropping from 400 to under 100 in a year.

JEFF WELCH: They are separate. We know how to care for them separately. We are actually open for visitors for regular patients. Not for the COVID-positive patients, but we have an open visitor hours as of this point in time.

GLENDA PRESTON: And they told me if I would have waited one more day to go to the hospital, I probably wouldn't be here.

JOAN MURRAY: Glenda Preston credits her doctor with saving her life. She has a message for anyone afraid of catching COVID in the ER.

GLENDA PRESTON: My advice for people is just listen to your body when it's telling you that something is wrong.

JOAN MURRAY: A year into the pandemic it is not as much of a mystery for hospitals. There are strict regulations in place, and doctors say if you are having a medical emergency, get to the ER as fast as you can. Joan Murray, CBS 4 News.