Health

People showings signs of stroke are no longer getting to the hospital fast enough, causing worse health outcomes in Kentucky and across the country, according to the stroke director at the University of Louisville.

Doctors say people experiencing strokes are often afraid to go to the hospital because of potential exposure to COVID-19, according to a U of L Health press release.

Dr. Kerri Remmel said University of Louisville Health has seen less than a 10% decrease in emergency medical visits for patients showing signs of stroke, but other facilities are seeing declines as much as 30%.

And when patients do receive care for the onset of stroke signs and symptoms, it’s happening too late. Doctors at University of Louisville Health hospitals are seeing patients wait an average of three hours longer than normal to seek care for a stroke, according to a press release.

“This has caused them to have much worse outcomes. And when they present late there are more complications from stroke. You can’t receive the lifesaving and brain-saving treatments that we have now for stroke,” Remmel said.

Last Monday, 55-year-old Kevin Early woke up with the side of his body feeling numb. Assuming it was a pinched nerve, he pushed through the discomfort and went to work. Only after his boss insisted, did Early visit emergency care, he said.

“I have to say they acted so quickly that here it is 10 days, I can already walk, I got my speech back within 24 hours because they acted so quickly,” Early said.

Other than numbness, signs and symptoms of stroke include slurred speech, sudden confusion, loss of balance, or trouble seeing, Remmel said. And those are not the only reason to consider an emergency medical visit. People who are experiencing sudden chest pain or abdominal pain need to seek care, she said.

In some cases, patients have arrived at the hospital with both COVID-19 and stroke, Remmel said. Emerging research indicates that patients are seeing issues with blood clotting in conjunction with coronavirus, she said.

Overall, it appears that Kentuckians are seeking emergency medical attention less since the onset of the pandemic. According to the Kentucky Board of Emergency Services, emergency 911 calls decreased about 20% in March over the same period last year.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.