Pennsylvania's largest medical system said Thursday that its inpatient volume has nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels. Though certain areas of care at UPMC, like cancer treatment, are still not back to normal.
UPMC's Dr. Donald Yealy said while all signs suggest that the virus is less prevalent today than it was weeks ago, he worries some people might not seek treatment out of fear of exposure to the coronavirus.
“That may change their opportunity to either have a better outcome, or a simpler care regimen by delaying the opportunity to identify whether its cancer, underlying hypertension, diabetes,” he said.
A decline in patient volume also means less revenue. The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania estimates the state’s medical system will see $7 billion in losses during 2020.
Yealy, who is head of emergency medicine at UPMC, said that the medical system’s recent data show that not only has the number of COVID-19 patients needing hospitalization declined since late April, but fewer of these patients need to be put on ventilators. It’s not entirely clear why this is happening.
“Anecdotally, what we’ve been seeing in recent positive cases is that the total amount of the virus that the patient has is much less than in earlier stages of the pandemic,” said Yealy. “We see all of this as evidence that COVID-19 cases are less severe than when this first started.”
Despite positive data, UPMC said it will follow state guidelines and keep the visitor ban at its 36 senior living facilities for at least four more weeks. Elderly people are more vulnerable to severe effects of COVID-19 infection, which is why UPMC nursing homes have not permitted guests since March 16.
“We’ve already started looking at way we can safely start to resume some of the normal activities, including around our independent living facilities,” said Dr. David Nace, chief medical officer of UPMC’s senior communities. “But I think what is really important to understand is that we need to take a measured, cautious approach here.”
UPMC said it also now testing asymptomatic residents at its senior-living residences. This is in line with the Pennsylvania Department of Health's goal of having every resident and staff member at every long-term care living facility in the state tested for the virus.
UPMC said it has so far tested residents at Canterbury Place and Heritage Place, with negative results across the board.