WATCH: Southwest Virginia hospitals, fire-EMS agencies ask for community’s help due to rising demand for emergency room use amid pandemic


ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — On Thursday morning, representatives from hospitals and fire-EMS agencies around southwest Virginia joined together to ask for help from the community amid an increasing demand for local emergency services following a steady climb in COVID-19 cases and community spread.

Local health and emergency officials held a joint news conference at the Berglund Center on Thursday, Sept. 23 to address this need for help around the region.

This briefing featured Salem Fire-EMS Chief John Prillaman on behalf of regional EMS teams; Dr. Patrice Weiss, executive vice president and Chief Medical Officer for Carilion Clinic; Dr. Carnell Cooper, Chief Medical Officer for LewisGale; and Dr. Cynthia Morrow, director of the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts

The Near Southwest Preparedness Alliance also released a joint statement endorsed by Carilion Clinic, Centra Health, LewisGale, Sovah Health, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), and 12 fire and EMS agencies from localities throughout southwest Virginia on Thursday morning.

According to this statement, “With the rapid spread of the Delta variant, COVID-19 has been relentless and unforgiving. We have empowered the community with effective, free and widely available tools to fight this virus. Now we’re coming together to call on community members to take advantage of those tools to stay healthy.”

As a result, health officials urge community members to do their part to help defend the frontline workers:

  • Seek the appropriate level of care.
    • For non-life-threatening illnesses or injuries, or even COVID-19 test, consider using primary care, urgent care, or retail pharmacy options. You can also find a testing site near you by visiting or calling 1-877-VAX-IN-VA (1-877-829-4682).
    • For critical conditions and life-threatening illnesses or injuries, call 911 immediately or go to the nearest emergency department.
  • Get vaccinated because that is the best way to keep yourself and your loved ones out of the hospital during the pandemic. According to health officials, more than 85 percent of the people currently hospitalized for COVID-19 in the region are unvaccinated.
  • When in doubt, wear a mask and keep your distance from others. Regardless of your vaccination status, you are urged to follow the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent the spread of the virus.

You can read more of Thursday’s statement below:

We are here, ready and passionate about caring for you. It’s our calling and privilege to care for community members during their worst moments. The increase in COVID-19 cases and the impact that the virus has had on our region weighs on all of us. It’s even more difficult when preventable emergency room traffic complicates delivering care.

Our commitment through it all remains steady: We are here to protect you. If you aren’t sure about getting the vaccine, talk to your primary care physician or ask any one of us about it. We aren’t here to judge you; we’re here to help you and to best care for you.

Joint statement endorsed by Alleghany County Department of Public Safety, Botetourt County Department of Fire and EMS, Carilion Clinic, Centra Health, City of Roanoke Fire-EMS, City of Salem Fire-EMS, Craig County EMS, Franklin County Department of Public Safety, Henry County Department of Public Safety, LewisGale Regional Health System, Near Southwest Preparedness Alliance (NSPA), Patrick County Fire and EMS, Pittsylvania County Public Safety Department, Roanoke County Fire & Rescue, Sovah Health, Virginia Department of Health (VDH), and Western Virginia EMS Council

Over the past month, hospitals throughout the region say they have seen a significant increase in the volume of patients, resulting in the need to use what is called a hospital “diversion.”

According to Thursday’s statement, diversion is a temporary, precautionary measure that hospitals take when their current volume of patients exceeds their emergency department’s ability to treat additional patients promptly.

When a hospital goes on diversion, local EMS teams will reportedly take incoming patients to the nearest emergency room that is not on diversion, thus allowing the first emergency department the opportunity to decompress.

“Importantly, going on ‘diversion’ is a request more than an order. If another hospital cannot receive a patient or is too far away, or if multiple hospitals are on diversion, patients will be taken to the closest, most appropriate hospital regardless of diversion status,” health officials said. “While emergency rooms remain open for those who need them, high patient volumes can complicate and delay care. Many current emergency room visits are preventable. Please get vaccinated and seek out the appropriate level of care when needed.”

Healthcare representatives say that both hospital and frontline providers are facing increased demand on two fronts:

  1. Treating patients who may have delayed care during the pandemic.
  2. Seeing more COVID-19 hospitalizations, primarily in individuals who are unvaccinated, and many of whom are younger.

Hospitals and first responders say that all of their teams are working nonstop to provide life-saving services for community members, not just coronavirus patients. Between delayed care over the last 19 months and the current number of cases, a large number of patients now need hospital care.

However, health officials say they need to reserve emergency rooms and rescue squads for medical emergencies, which is why they continue to urge the community to stay healthy and stay out of the hospital.

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