NORTH BAY -- There’s a concerning trend doctors at the North Bay Regional Health Centre are seeing: fewer patients accessing health care.

COVID-19 continues to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, and officials said that out of fear, people are not showing up to the hospital when feeling ill or are missing important surgeries and appointments.

The hospital want to make it very clear: if you are feeling ill or have an appointment, come to the hospital.

“Healthcare is one of the essential reasons why people should be leaving their home,” said Dr. Neva Fantham-Tremblay, the hospital’s medical director of surgery and head of service for obstetrics and gynecology. “It’s not up to the public to triage themselves.”

As doctors have had to adjust to provide more virtual care in the COVID world, it’s been misconstrued that you can’t seek health care in-person.

“The whole point of virtual care is not to replace usual care. It’s just to try to avoid bringing people into the office unless you need an exam,” Fantham-Tremblay said.

Sharp decline

The hospital said the sharp decline in visiting patients is because people fear catching COVID, or that they will place a burden on healthcare workers. Currently, there are no outbreaks or patients isolating at the hospital.

The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit is echoing the hospital’s message.

“We’d rather people be seen than miss somebody who really needs the acute care,” said medical officer of health Dr. Jim Chirico. “If we can get control of these COVID variants and we can limit the spread, then … it will keep our emergency departments free to be able to look after those that are really sick.”

The hospital said it has gotten to a point that patients have been postponing or even cancelling scheduled surgeries or tests in fear the hospital is not a safe place to be during the pandemic.

“There’s been so much work done behind the scenes to make sure our patients are safe -- and safer here than everywhere,” said Fantham-Tremblay.

The hospital has not cancelled any urgent surgeries due to the pandemic and said it will use emergency plans if needed to scale back surgeries if case numbers rise.