The global pandemic has left many afraid to seek out emergency medical care for urgent health needs such as stroke and heart attack. HCA Healthcare experts urge that waiting too long to seek care can make the difference between life and death. Read on to find out what conditions warrant immediate attention plus learn about precautionary measures taking place across our organization to ensure that patients can safely receive the care they need…

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, you may find yourself ignoring warning signs of a serious condition, such as heart attack or stroke, in order to avoid a trip to the emergency room. Unfortunately, while the number of people experiencing emergency medical issues hasn’t changed, the number of people seeking care has. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, “Nearly a third of adults (29%) have actively delayed or avoided seeking medical care due to concerns about contracting the coronavirus.”

“Delaying medical care can have dire consequences,” says Bob Foster, vice president of emergency services for HCA Healthcare. “But unfortunately, that’s what has been happening recently in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Reports suggest that hospitals across the country have seen a decrease in patients coming to the emergency room for time-sensitive conditions such as heart attack, stroke and appendicitis.

Time matters

  • Stroke: When it comes to stroke, time is brain. Delaying care even minutes can increase brain damage, disability and even death. During a stroke, several million brain cells die every minute. And for ischemic strokes, the clot busting drug tPA can only be administered within the first few hours after the start of symptoms.
  • Heart attack: The longer a heart attack goes untreated, the more heart muscle can be damaged. Depending on the extent of damage, this can lead to heart failure, arrhythmia or even death. The quicker a person can recognize symptoms, get to the ER and be taken to the cath lab, the better their chance of survival and minimized damage.
  • Appendicitis: If a person has appendicitis for 24-48 hours, the appendix can rupture. This causes the infection to spill into the abdomen and can make a person very sick and can even be life-threatening. That is why it is so important to call your doctor or head to the emergency room if you are suspicious of appendicitis.

“Avoiding medical care for these and other time sensitive medical issues can result in health complications and even death,” says Foster.

When to go to the emergency room

Dr. Travis Graves, hospitalist at TriStar Skyline Medical Center

“We’ve had patients with strokes that have delayed care, which can be life threatening,” says Dr. Travis Graves, a hospitalist at affiliate TriStar Skyline Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. “We’re able to act on those types of emergencies with early interventions and have better outcomes, but when people delay care, it can become life threatening.”

Signs and symptoms that require emergency attention are:

  • Head injury, loss of consciousness or other major trauma
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Signs of a stroke such as one-sided weakness or numbness
  • Signs of a heart attack such as chest pain
  • High fever
  • Open fracture
  • Uncontrollable pain or bleeding
  • Breathing problems

“If you’re having an emergency, seek treatment immediately,” Graves adds.

Hospitals remain safe places for care

HCA Healthcare emergency rooms are equipped with extensive safety measures to prevent infectious diseases from spreading.  “We are understanding of the fears of patients, and we’ve gone to great lengths to isolate all of our COVID patients from non-COVID patients,” Graves said.

HCA Healthcare caregivers at JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, Florida.

Over the past few months, we have been and will continue to follow direction from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, maintaining and often exceeding their guidance. These precautions include:

  • Universal masking throughout our facilities
  • Limited entry into hospitals and clinics and enhanced screening processes for patients, visitors and clinical teams
  • Visitor restrictions in patient care areas
  • Separate locations for COVID-19 positive patients and those who are under investigation
  • Separate treatment areas and staff members for non-COVID-19 patients
  • Heightened infection prevention policies, including the removal of high-touch items such as magazines, toys and vending machines from our facilities
  • Management of supplies to appropriately protect our caregivers and patients
  • Close coordination with local and national health organizations to plan for potential future scenarios
  • Continued reinforcement of preventive measures, such as good hand hygiene
Bob Foster, vice president of emergency services for HCA Healthcare

“At HCA Healthcare, the health and safety of our patients, caregivers and communities is our top priority,” says Foster. “We maintain strict precautions and infection prevention measures throughout all our medical facilities.”

Bottom line, don’t delay care. Time matters and can greatly impact outcomes.

If you think you or a loved one are having a heart attack or stroke, it is best to not drive yourself to a healthcare facility. Dial 9-1-1 and seek medical attention immediately. Medical professionals can begin life-saving treatment and get you to an  emergency room right away.


Nashville-based HCA Healthcare is one of the nation’s leading providers of healthcare services, comprising 186 hospitals and approximately 2,000 sites of care, including surgery centers, freestanding ERs, urgent care centers, and physician clinics, in 21 states and the United Kingdom.