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Emergency room visits down 40% in Colorado during pandemic

Doctors said medical conditions str worsening as patients wait to long to come in to ER.
An emergency room could cost you thousands of dollars depending on how many services you receive -- even if reading this article took longer than the time you spent with a doctor.

DENVER, Colorado — The Colorado Hospital Association (CHA) said emergency room visits are down roughly 40% during the pandemic, in part because of fears of contracting COVID-19.

Of course, significant reductions in traffic accidents and workplace injuries contribute, but Dr. Ben Usatch, medical director of the emergency department at UCHealth Highlands Ranch, said many patients have avoided coming into his department over coronavirus fears.

“I've never seen so many perforated appendicitis. patients with bad gallbladder disease." he said. "I've really got great fear that down the line, we're going to be having new diagnoses of cancer just because people have been staying out of the hospital when they really need to come in. These are all very time-sensitive where minutes and seconds matter.”

That mentality may be unwarranted as hospitals have gone to great lengths to separate COVID-19 patients from the rest of a hospital.

“I would challenge any industry in the world to be doing more than the hospital system to care for patients to keep safe staff patients and family," Usatch said. "It's always been safe. It's even more safe now."

It's also a good time to get in elective surgeries, now that they're allowed, he said. The state had paused those procedures to prevent overwhelming hospitals.

RELATED: Colorado moving to 'safer-at-home' status

“The COVID patients didn't make up for that revenue,” said Julie Lonborg, senior vice president of CHA. “So in total, after the federal subsidies, we believe the financial impact on Colorado hospitals is around $3 [billion], maybe $3.1 billion on an annual basis.”

While some elective surgeries that pay many bills have begun, it's not as simple as flipping a switch.

Hospitals have to remain prepared for additional COVID-19 waves and the subsequent financial impacts. So, staff levels remain restricted and discretionary spending has largely been eliminated.

Asked if any hospitals have started offering deals on procedures to get people back into the operating room, CHA said they haven't heard of anything like that. But if that was offered it would only be for self-pay patients as hospitals have already set rates with insurers.

RELATED: Colorado coronavirus latest, May 28

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