As COVID-19 hospitalizations reach record levels in the region, Ballad Health leaders say they’re trying to inform the communities it serves of their health care options in an attempt to optimize resources for those who need it most.

Ballad had 413 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals Wednesday, with 100 of those patients in intensive care units and 72 on ventilators.

According to a statement from Ballad, if any person believes he or she is having a life- or limb-threatening emergency, the person should call 911 or get to the closest emergency department. These individuals will be triaged immediately by qualified providers, and they will be provided with a medical screening exam by a qualified provider.

However, if a person arrives at an emergency room without a true medical emergency, Ballad warns they could be waiting for quite a long time. According to the statement, if it is determined the individual does not have a life- or limb-threatening emergency, it is highly likely the wait times to be treated will be significant, as the emergency physicians and clinical team prioritize those with the most severe needs. Ballad says that ERs are not first-come-first-served, but rather, patients are prioritized based on medical necessity as determined by qualified physicians and providers.

Ballad is also encouraging the use of its telehealth option, in an effort to keep crowds down at emergency rooms. The Ballad Health Virtual Urgent Care Clinic is a telehealth option providing immediate access to care for common illnesses; for example, cold and flu, sinus infections, strep throat, headaches, and more. The Virtual Urgent Care Clinic can be accessed at www.balladhealth.org/connected-care/telehealth-urgent-care. Additionally, Ballad Health operates a network of 12 Ballad Health Medical Associates Urgent Care Centers in the Appalachian Highlands, all of which treat minor illnesses and injuries without appointments.

If an individual needs COVID-19 testing, but is not exhibiting symptoms, Ballad Health advises the person to use any of Ballad Health’s six drive-through testing locations in the region, or any of Ballad Health’s urgent care centers. Other providers can also perform testing, including pharmacies, health departments and other locations throughout the Appalachian Highlands. Appointments are required for all Ballad Health drive-through testing sites.

Ballad Health strongly advises against using emergency departments for COVID-19 testing and warns the use of ERs for testing will not lead to a faster result. Moreover, Ballad Health encourages people to seek the appropriate level of care for their health needs. According to Ballad, emergency departments should be reserved for life- and limb-threatening situations, such as chest pain, severe injuries, difficulty breathing, and stroke symptoms. People seeking care for non-emergent or routine health care needs could lead to the diversion of critical staffing from other patients who have serious health care emergencies requiring attention.

However, Ballad wants to make it clear that patients experiencing traumas, chest pain, stroke symptoms or other serious health emergencies should come to their nearest emergency room or call 911 immediately. Long wait times and delays to care apply to those with less severe health needs that do not need to be addressed in the emergency department.

Ballad also emphasizes the importance of primary are doctors in the statement. According to Ballad, many ongoing health needs can be best addressed in a primary care setting, and a preventive care regimen can resolve many health issues before they become emergencies. If a person is in need of a primary care provider and does not currently have one, they can contact Ballad Health, and Ballad will connect these individuals to an appropriate provider. Information about how to connect with a primary care provider can be found at https://www.balladhealth.org/medical-services/primary-care.

According to the statement, as hospitals throughout Tennessee and the Southeast deal with this COVID-19 surge, many are diverting patients, or refusing to take transfers. Therefore, it is critical Ballad Health manage its capacity to ensure people with the most critical needs can access the care they need.