The number of cancer diagnoses at Beth Israel-Lahey Health affiliated health care providers dropped 20% this past spring because fewer people are seeing their doctors for routine visits during the pandemic, one North Shore health official said.
“Those cancers did not disappear. They just did not get diagnosed,” said Phil Cormier, president of Beverly Hospital and Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester, both part of the Beth Israel-Lahey Health system. “And that's concerning to us because we also know cancer found earlier has a much better prognosis” and is less expensive to treat.
Cormier talked Wednesday about the pandemic's toll on the local health care system and how that could impact residents' health. He spoke as part of a conversation on the economic outlook for the North Shore hosted by the North Shore Chamber of Commerce. He also addressed the state's vaccine rollout.
Cormier said the number of people on the North Shore who see their doctors for elective surgeries, routine physicals and preventative procedures like colonoscopies has declined significantly since last March.
“What we saw was most services declined, whether that was out of fear or also we were asked by the governor and by other agencies to restrict the amount of patients that we saw certainly during that first wave,” he said. “And we have, but what it means is physician office visits have declined.”
That decline in services impacts not only the finances of the health system, but has potential implications for residents' health, he said.
“We're concerned that [the decrease in] routine and preventative care will lead to an increase in cardiac disease and cancer diagnosis missed,” he said.
Cormier urged local employers to not only encourage employees to wear masks and continue social distancing, but also to return to making routine doctor's appointments.
“It is really important for that preventive and routine care,” he said.
Cormier also discussed the state's vaccine rollout plan. At Beverly and Addison Gilbert, staff is administering the vaccine by appointment only, and only to eligible patients to whom they are reaching out directly.
“We are vaccinating patients, our patients, not just the general populace but our patients, and that's defined as a patient who's been a patient of our primary specialty care in the last three years,” Cormier said.
Cormier added that he gets a lot of questions from residents wondering where they should receive a vaccine, but he said as long as a patient receives their first and second dose at the same site, it doesn’t matter.
“The reality is someone should take the earliest opportunity they can to get vaccinated," he said. "That is very important.”
Cormier acknowledged that vaccines are not getting administered as quickly as some might have hoped, but the health care system is doing what it can to ramp up its efforts.
“There are a lot of growing pains, if you will, so we've all started off slow to make sure we get it right, make sure we have the opportunity to schedule that second dose when that patient comes for that first,” he said.
Residents shouldn’t worry too much, he said, about doses of the vaccine being wasted.
“I think our wastage is extremely low if any at all,” he said. “I wouldn't really be concerned about that. I think the real concern is the ability to get doses administered much more rapidly than we've done. That to me is much more critical to me than wasting one or two doses at the end of the day.”
Both Beverly and Addison Gilbert, he said, are developing contact lists of residents who the hospital can call at the end of the day if there are extra doses at risk of expiring.
Other local business leaders provided updates on other sectors of the North Shore economy.
Betsy Merry of Merry Fox Realty said that residential real estate costs have soared over the past year, and Greg Klemmer of Colliers International said while commercial office space is not in high demand, the demand for industrial warehouse space has increased this past year. John Colucci of the law firm McLane Middleton spoke about recent changes in employment law and what the implications are for local employers.
Staff writer Erin Nolan can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @erin_nolan.