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Many Virginians stopped going to the hospital for medical care in 2020, leading to low hospital admissions

A new Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association data analysis shows about 12 percent of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Virginia in 2020 died in the hospital

NORFOLK, Va. — A new Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association report shows hospital admissions dropped significantly in 2020 and never returned to the levels of previous years. 

"I think there’s still a lot of fear of people coming to the hospital and coming to the emergency department,” said Dr. Lewis Siegel, Chesapeake Regional Healthcare chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine. "So we see delays in care which are very concerning and can lead to much worse outcomes."

The VHHA report shows emergency department visits dropped by 30 percent compared to previous years. 

Inpatient visits - which are normally fairly consistent - dropped by 10 percent and didn't return to normal levels, even after the ban on elective surgeries was lifted.

“The concern is people who maybe aren’t being diagnosed with cancer, women putting off mammography, for example," said Mary Morin, Sentara Healthcare Vice President for Clinical Effectiveness.

Siegel said hospital admissions are still not back to where they were before the COVID-19 pandemic, while Morin said more people are thankfully choosing to seek medical care when they need it.

“They’re more comfortable, confident, and we’re seeing they’re more likely to seek care," said Morin.

The VHHA report also shows new information about COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Commonwealth. About 12 percent of people who were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Virginia last year died in the hospital, according to discharge data.

The VHHA report shows the average age of someone hospitalized for COVID-19 was 67 years old. It also shows how Hampton Roads was a primary spot for COVID-19 hospitalizations last summer.

The hospital discharge data by medical category was not uniform. While most inpatient services fell below yearly averages - such as heart, digestive, and ENT healthcare needs - others exceeded the normal levels.

Every week for the last six months of 2020, more people were discharged from Virginia hospitals for "alcohol/drug use" and "alcohol/drug-induced mental disorders" than at any point between 2017 and 2019.

The VHHA report also shows "pregnancy and childbirth" hospital discharges were lower in 2020 than in any recent year.

On average, a person hospitalized with COVID-19 stayed in the hospital for 10 days, according to the report.

Morin said hospitals and healthcare systems are hoping more people who need healthcare seek it out in 2021. She said a return to "normal levels" would also help hospitals figure out their medical staffing.

“We’d like to get back to our pre-COVID volumes because that also allows us to continue to grow and demand our services," she said.