La Crosse doctors urge people to attend routine screenings as possible matter of life, death

Unvaccinated patients are absorbing Wisconsin hospital resources, health leaders say

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — Discovering health problems, such as cancer, early saves lives, and La Crosse doctors say people need to stay on top of routine appointments.

But some patients in the community still are afraid to get necessary checkups. On the other side of the state, unvaccinated people are forcing hospitals to decide whom to care for and whom to turn away. Health care now is facing increasing pressure, said Dr. Joel Greenya, a family medicine physician at Mayo Clinic Health System.

“Now is a particularly hard time to be in health care,” Greenya said.

Despite COVID-19’s constant disruptions, doctors want to see their patients.

“What we learned there is people get sicker,” said Dr. Scott Rathgaber, chief executive officer of Gundersen Health System. “They don’t get better if they don’t come in to see their regular appointments.”

Patients who miss appointments for other health problems lose precious time, Rathgaber and Greenya said.

“They’ve missed out on either important screenings or had concerning symptoms that they didn’t get checked out, and have had unfortunately really, really bad out outcomes because of that,” Greenya said.

The National Cancer Institute predicts that missed screening for breast and colorectal cancer will cause 10,000 additional deaths. COVID-19 has killed almost 810,000 people in the United States since the pandemic began. Heart disease claims about 655,000 lives a year.

Another problem is starting to affect communities on the other side of Wisconsin.

“There’s a bed capacity problem in the entire state,” Rathgaber said.

The president and CEO of Prevea Health in Green Bay told journalists last week that the system turned away 28 patients and sent them somewhere else. Three of these people were suffering from strokes.

La Crosse, at times, runs out of room, too.

“Hour to hour there are some times when we are full,” Rathgaber said.

There’s one common denominator.

“The people who need our hospital are those who are unvaccinated,” Rathgaber said.

Right now, doctors say if patients need care, people like Greenya are there to help.

“I started doing this because I wanted to help people live happier and healthier lives,” said Greenya, who is based in Prairie du Chien.

These appointments matter in a race against time. Doctors say vaccinations will keep resources available for someone’s life hanging in the balance.

Greenya is based in Prairie Du Chien. He said telehealth and virtual visits can also be a good alternative option for patients. This helps people in rural communities with long drives.

Rathgaber said good hand washing and masking will help combat winter illnesses like the flu.

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