DERRY — The local emergency room is ready to treat patients and make sure everyone is safe and cared for.

That's the message coming from Parkland Medical center as the coronavirus challenges continue on.

Staff at Parkland, along with Derry's emergency officials are sending out the message that those experiencing true health emergencies and needing care and transport to the hospital will be cared for safely and with all protocols in mind.

COVID-19 has created a dampening effect on people realizing they are having a true health emergency and reporting to the emergency room for treatment, Parkland officials say, and individuals are delaying treatment and not going to an emergency room out of fear of being infected by the virus. And not calling 911 for life-threatening health issues like heart attacks or strokes can often lead to catastrophic outcomes.

Parkland officials report the hospital has seen a 40% decline in emergency room visits in April of this year, compared to this time last year. There is also an average daily census of about 10 COVID-19 patients at the facility over the past week.

Dr. Marc Grossman, Parkland's Emergency Services Medical Director, said the hospital is well equipped and ready to treat all patients, not only those with COVID-19, but all needing care.

That includes making sure the hospital emergency room is ready and safe for all who come through the doors during the current pandemic.

"We are all doing well here in Derry, and we have had patients treated for COVID-19, along with outbreaks in the community. We are taking good care of them, most people are doing well and are being discharged."

Parkland currently has measures in place to ensure that safety, including isolating COVID-19 patients from others in a designated section of the emergency room, making sure staff are wearing enhanced personal protective equipment, or PPE, rigorous sterilization and cleaning procedures, access restrictions and a strict visitation policy, universal masking requirements for staff, patients and visitors, working closely with local emergency personnel for any patients coming to the emergency room, and comprehensive screening and temperature checks.

Parkland was named a potential surge location by the state in case virus cases continued to spike upward, Grossman said, and the hospital was prepared, especially the intensive care areas and the hospital in general.

"We had no idea if we'd have a surge of patients," Grossman said. "We had all that laid out, set up hundreds of beds."

Getting the message out for people to stay home also helped keep numbers controllable," Grossman said. "We are very appreciative that they did help flatten the curve. Community spread has been less than it would have been. People are staying home."

But many people are wary of what lies ahead, even when experiencing medical emergencies on the home front.

"People are scared, people don't want to catch COVID-19," Grossman said.

He stressed the Parkland emergency room is well equipped for all patients needing care, those with COVID-19 and those experiencing other problems like heart attack, stroke or other emergency situations.

That includes having personnel using all the proper protective gear and keeping COVID patients isolated.

"We've been very successful in continuing that safe space," Grossman said.

Right now, Grossman said Parkland is managing its patient load well, and trying to maintain the safety of staff and patients needing care.

Charles Hemeon, director of emergency services for the Derry Fire Department said the local department, as with others in the area, are seeing a decrease in call numbers and requests for medical aid, down about 93 calls from a typical time in the past.  Some patients refuse to be transported to the hospital, Hemeon said, after emergency crews arrive and evaluate the situation.

Hemeon said the relationship with Parkland is a strong one, with all affected and dealing with patients wearing the proper gear to protect not only those being transported but the first responders as well.

"But I understand fully how concerned people can be," he said. "And I fully understand why people don't want to go."

Hemeon said Derry's response team got up to speed quickly and are doing well to help those needing transport, virus or not. He  said people should not worry about the care they may receive if emergency medical issues come up.

"We take care of our community," he said, adding emergency crews treat everyone as if they may have COVID-19.

Grossman said he has lived through many disasters calling on medical professionals for care and advice, including Ebola and the H1N1 virus several years ago.

It's all about planning and being ready for dangerous situations and what the effects might be on both patients and medical and emergency staff.

Hemeon said people should not fear calling out for emergency care.

"Our providers are standing by and are ready for any emergency in town," he said. "We are immersed in this on a daily basis."

And dealing with the coronavirus, something that is new to every one, has helped the emergency crews continue to learn and be prepared.

"Through this we have learned a lot," Hemeon said, "to prepare us for the future. We are able and ready to respond. Don't neglect the call because you are fearful, (we want) to help you."

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