A top medical administrator warned of the dangers of avoiding medical care during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Chris Trevino, chief medical officer and administrator for Our Lady of the Lake Ascension Hospital in Gonzales, said fear of medical settings during the crisis can cause unintended health consequences.

In an interview Friday, Trevino said general data for time-sensitive, dangerous medical ailments such as stroke and heart conditions show a 30 percent to 40 percent decrease. And though the numbers are down, “It doesn’t mean it’s not happening,” he said.

Trevino expressed concerns about the “substantial changes” in how the community has approached healthcare since the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I think it’s just straight up fear. It’s also misunderstanding that the hospital is somehow not a safe place to go. It’s probably safer than Home Depot,” he said, pointing to the major retailer located a mile up Hwy. 30 from the hospital.

Trevino said hospitals go to extensive lengths to assure patients, personnel, and facilities are clean.

“That’s way more than the public environment will do,” he said.

If an individual feels as though they need medical attention, they should not hesitate for fear of the clinical setting.

“I want to make sure the community understands that if they need healthcare, they should seek it,” he said. “They shouldn’t sit on their hands and say, ‘Well, you know, it’s not that bad.’ What starts off as ‘not that bad’ turns into ‘that bad.’”

Trevino said he has admitted “numerous” patients who did not need to be as sick as they were.

“Part of it is not their fault. Part is the ability to seek healthcare. Many doctor’s offices are saying unless a test is done, we won’t see you,” he said. “So that means they have an obstacle before they can see a doctor. I don’t agree with that. We certainly don’t do that at the emergency department.”

Trevino said such obstacles can leave a patient “in a bad spot,” and as a result, can make their condition worse.

“We don’t want Ascension Parish and our public to feel concerned about that,” he said. “If they need to see their physician, they need to see their physician. They should go to see the doctor if they need to be evaluated. If they think there is a problem, they need to come to the emergency department. Don’t wait until the condition gets much worse.”

Returning to a sense of normalcy may be a matter of time. 

“This won’t happen right away, but it will happen over the next 12 to 18 months,” Trevino said. “Corona is going to go the same direction West Nile went. If you remember, it was a big deal. People were afraid of mosquitos. We don’t even talk about West Nile anymore. We still see it. We don’t even talk about it. It only makes news if about five cases are in an area. And that’s it.”

A turning point in the coronavirus pandemic would be “basic immunity in the population,” he said.

“So many are infected and are asymptomatic. In time, just the very vulnerable will be the ones most worried about it, which pretty much are the ones we worry about with everything anyway. It’s going to be the same population.” 

As the months pass, he expects perspectives on the virus to change.

“The rest of the population will say, ‘We get it. It’s another one of those things we kind of had to live through.’ Sometimes someone very young and healthy gets very sick with it. But there are also times when young and healthy people get very sick anyway. We have 30,000 people die every year from car crashes, but we don’t have a moratorium on people driving cars.”

Trevino said fear arises out of a lack of information.

“As we get more information, this will end up in that category as a part of life,” he said. “We’re not totally there yet because we don’t have a lot of information. Without information, all we have is fear. And fear is paralyzing. That’s exactly what’s happened. I worry about people needing healthcare and they’re paralyzed to go and get it. They then become ill not from corona, but a byproduct of the fear from corona. Now we have folks not seeking healthcare.”

Trevino emphasized the importance of setting aside those concerns and seeking medical attention when needed.

“I want our parish to know healthcare is available for them,” he said. “We’re here. We’re going to protect them and their families. They don’t need to be so afraid of the healthcare environment to stop seeking it. I’ve seen it. It’s kind of going on and it worries me.”