Gov. Charlie Baker joined top health executives on Thursday to urge residents to seek medical treatment if they need it amidst a dramatic decrease in non COVID-related hospital visits.
He said too many people have been avoiding care, some of them with serious consequences, because they fear of exposure to the coronavirus at local hospitals and other facilities.
Hospitals are reporting drops in patients seeking care for heart problems, cancer treatments and dialysis, he said. Of 18,000 available hospital beds, more than half are empty.
“We know these medical conditions didn’t stop,’’ Baker said at a press conference. “We don’t want people getting sicker or exacerbating an illness or injury.’’
At the event, the state released a series of public service announcements prepared by local hospitals saying they are open for business.
Michael Apkon, chief executive of Tufts Medical Center, said medical providers want people to know that hospitals are doing everything they can to keep facilities safe, including decontaminating, social distancing and wearing masks.
"If you are ill, please call your physician to seek care," he said. “Our concern is that fear is leading to adverse outcomes.”
Gregg Meyer, chief clinical officer of the Partners Healthcare System, said medical providers are troubled by empty beds in the emergency departments. Numbers at the Newton-Wellesley Hospital have dropped by about 50 percent since January.
He said one of his surgeons has been doing more amputations than ever before — all on patients who say they were afraid to seek help because of the virus and waited too long to get care.
"We need to avoid a second toll of the pandemic — one for which we do have treatments that work," he said.
Baker said that empty hospital beds are a good sign of the state's efforts to prepare for the coronavirus outbreak.
He said the number of deaths — nearly 2,200 — is "staggering." About nine percent of the nearly 43,000 Massachusetts residents with the virus have been hospitalized, he said. But, new cases are beginning to level off.