By Brian Maass

(CBS4)– As the coronavirus pandemic began spreading, Dr. Jesse Johar and his medical group, Big Thompson Emergency Physicians, began making contingency plans for an onslaught of ER patients at McKee Medical Center in Loveland.

“We were expecting high volume. We made a lot of plans and projections- how to screen people out front and increase staffing in the emergency department.”

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The exact opposite has happened said Johar, with ER volume down an estimated 50% at his hospital.

“We weren’t expecting that,” said Johar.

Consequently, he said the physicians in his group have cut their pay by about 20% as their ER hours dropped.

“And that seems to be the general theme is everybody’s volume is down, sometimes 30%, sometimes 50%. I’m hearing some facilities are down 70%,” said Johar.

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It’s a common refrain from hospitals around Colorado- with elective surgeries temporarily banned, and ER visits dropping dramatically, hospitals are shifting personnel away from their emergency departments and in some cases, trimming hours and pay for healthcare workers.

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With stay at home orders in place, there are few car accidents and few of the common mishaps that would typically bring patients to the emergency rooms. Doctors say the drop is also fueled by a fear of coming to an emergency room and contracting coronavirus.

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“If people are nervous about going to the grocery store and nobody wants to stop by the bank, going to the ER for anything less than a life threatening illness doesn’t make any sense,” observed Johar. “Patients understandably don’t want to come to the hospital or emergency department if it’s not something very serious.”

Sara Quarle, a spokesperson for McKee Medical Center, told CBS4 there have been no layoffs, but, “Team members and physicians have the opportunity to redeploy to other areas of the hospital based on need and whether they have the appropriate skills.”

Stephanie Sullivan, with HealthOne, which has seven hospitals along the Front Range, told CBS4 their emergency rooms have seen visits drop by about 50%. She said while there have not been layoffs, some workers are seeing their hours and pay cut.

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Michelle Fournier Johnson, Chief Human Resources Officer with Denver Health Medical Center, said, “Denver Health has no plans to implement layoffs.”

Centura Health’s Wendy Forbes said Centura hospitals have not furloughed any workers.

As for Johar, he said while overall ER volume is down, the patients who are coming in are very sick and need a high level of care.

“It’s very scary, a very intense place to be working.”

He emphasized that hospital emergency rooms are aggressive about keeping COVID-19 patients separated from non-COVID-19 patients.

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He said hospitals, “work hard to keep it a safe environment.”

Brian Maass