Hospitals and health systems have reinvented themselves in many ways to respond to COVID-19. Since March, decades of standard operating procedures have been reexamined, redesigned and refined — all with the goal of saving lives while protecting caregivers and patients’ families during the pandemic.

For example, hospitals have increased COVID-19 testing opportunities (including curbside testing); implemented social distancing in waiting rooms and mask use in common areas; limited entry and exit points; and used virtual care when it is available and appropriate. These extra precautions have made hospitals among the safest environments found anywhere today.

However, we continue to see evidence that people are putting off necessary care due to unfounded fears of contracting COVID-19 from a hospital visit.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that during the first five months of this year the number of visits to emergency departments for life-threatening illnesses declined by 42%. In addition, use of primary and preventive care services have declined sharply among children in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. These delays can jeopardize a person’s health in the short-term, as well as have serious long-term consequences.

So, the AHA is sounding the drumbeat again. This week, we launched a public service announcement to remind everyone that hospitals and health systems are open and safe and that individuals should not delay getting the preventive, scheduled and emergency services they need.

Building on a number of previous efforts to reassure the public, the 30-second PSA can be customized and branded by AHA member hospitals and health systems for use in their local markets. In addition, we have added social media tools, talking points and other materials that you can use in your communities. The upshot: Hospitals haven’t missed a beat in providing safe care.

In addition, the Coalition to Protect America’s Health Care, of which the AHA is a founding member, is reinforcing this message with a new video released to its more than 2 million supporters and the public urging those who need medical attention to seek care right away.

Patient safety has always been and will always be hospitals’ top priority. And hospitals have a long history of treating patients with infectious disease while preventing transmission to others.

As our country and our brave front-line caregivers continue to fight COVID-19, the need for safe medical care unrelated to the pandemic is more important than ever. America’s hospitals and health systems are always ready to care. So please do yourself and your loved ones a favor … don’t delay needed care.

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