Health facilities see increase in patients unrelated to COVID-19 treatment | KOB 4

Health facilities see increase in patients unrelated to COVID-19 treatment

Tommy Lopez
Updated: October 14, 2020 10:11 PM
Created: October 14, 2020 09:44 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Local health experts said Wednesday that they're seeing an increase in people looking for medical care unrelated to COVID-19 treatment.

They believe patients, in many instances, have been putting off medical appointments during the pandemic until they can no longer wait.

“We did have a backlog of patients that required things like basic cancer screenings, and a lot of issues that they had just put off, maybe that would not have in normal times,” said Dr. Vesta Sandoval, Chief Medical Officer at Lovelace Health System.

Dr. Sandoval said patients are, on average, sicker, which came as a surprise to her.

There's also been an increase in transfers into Albuquerque.

“When people put off coming to the doctor, we’re now seeing poorly-controlled diabetes, more emotional stressors such as depression, and those things that get put off eventually get to that tipping point where we really need to address those things as soon as possible,” said Dr. David Rakel, UNM professor and chair of the UNM Health System’s Department of Family and Community Medicine.

Local health groups say they’re prepared and they’re managing, but they do expect this increase to continue and for facilities to stay busy.

The advice from Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase and other health experts lately has been for everyone to not put off going to the doctor.

Amid those trends, an Albuquerque woman has faced delays in cancer screening.

Dima Brown got a mammogram, then received a letter that said she needed an ultrasound and a consultation. It’s the kind of news that causes fear. The biggest issue? Brown had to wait weeks.

“And I told them that was unacceptable,” she said.

She was told the health group was experiencing delays because equipment was unavailable.

“I did tell them that I would be contacting the media because this is unfair, not only for me but for all the other women,” Brown said.

She now has an appointment on the calendar, and is relieved about that -- during Breast Cancer Awareness Month no less.

“I’m trying to keep a positive attitude, but I am concerned for the other women also in my position,” Brown said.

A spokesperson for the health group, Optum, sent KOB 4 the following statement:

“We have compassion for any patient experiencing temporary delays in receiving results, and we understand their frustration. We are working with our local radiology vendor to quickly resolve the issue, including bringing in additional radiologists to help speed turnaround.”

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