ETSU poll: 35% of Tennesseans have or likely will skip needed medical treatment due to pandemic

Jonathan Roberts • Updated May 28, 2020 at 8:28 PM

A new poll from East Tennessee State University’s Applied Social Research Lab found that more than one-third of Tennesseans have or will likely skip needed medical treatment as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, though they could not say whether that was due to personal safety concerns or job loss.

“We don’t see people highly concerned about not being able to afford food — that’s less than 20%. We don’t see people report very high levels of concern about relapsing with drugs or alcohol. We don’t see high levels of concern about being unable to afford mortgage or rent,” ASRL director Dr. Kelly Foster said, “but we do see significant numbers of people who say they’ve either skipped medical treatment — 8% say that’s already happened — but another 27% say they anticipate skipping medical treatment.

“That’s over a third of Tennesseans who either have skipped needed medical treatment or anticipate doing that,” she continued. “That was a surprising finding to me.”

Foster said the results show “we need to be really concerned about what’s happening in individual people’s lives in our community.”

“(A)s somebody who has spent a good bit of her career concerned about health disparities, particularly in vulnerable populations, that really stands out to me because we didn’t ask if people were delaying elective care — we asked if you’re delaying needed medical care,” Foster said, “and that’s more than a third of our community that’s delaying needed medical care.

“I think that could be a real problematic thing for our community, and I think it could have long lasting impacts beyond the pandemic,” Foster said.

During a press conference Thursday morning, Ballad Health officials cautioned against forgoing healthcare, particularly if it’s due to concern about catching the virus at a hospital or doctor’s office. Dr. Clay Runnels, Ballad Health’s chief physician executive, said people skipping needed care could lead to “an illness that’s worse than it should be, prolonged or even death in some cases,” adding that “this is not something that we’re just seeing here regionally, these are things people are concerned about nationally during the pandemic.”

“The message today is two-fold,” Runnels said. “One is don’t pass up routine care which could lead to serious illness, and also very important is don’t put off emergent care because of serious symptoms you’re having. You are safe with us, and we’re doing everything we can to keep you safe in our facilities.

About 40% of Tennesseans are worried that if they get COVID-19, it will be severe, according to the poll. 1% say they’ve already had a severe case of COVID-19.

Other Tennessee Poll takeaways:

• 74% of Tennesseans approve of the way the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are handling the pandemic, the highest mark of any organization or person included in the poll. White House infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci is the highest rated individual at 67%. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee had a 64% approval rating, with 50% approval among Democrats. U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had a 55% and 56% approval rating, respectively.

“Governor Lee’s approval ratings were actually quite interesting, whereas you saw some — what we would anticipate — partisan patterns in approval rating for, let’s say President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence, that didn’t really seem to hold when we looked at Gov. Bill Lee,” Foster said.

Additionally, East Tennesseans were more likely to approve of the president’s handling of the pandemic compared to those in Middle or West Tennessee, and were more like to disapprove of the governor’s handling of the crisis.

• 52% of Tennesseans feel the state is headed in the right direction, with 70% of Republicans approving of the state’s direction compared to 42% of independents and 37% of Democrats. Older, wealthier, white and male Tennesseans were more likely to feel as though things are going well in the state.

• Despite more than 500,000 Tennesseans filing for unemployment since March 15, 73% say they’re not worried about being able to pay bills, with just 18% of respondents saying they’re worried about missing a rent or mortgage payment. 2% said they’ve missed a housing payment already, while another 2% said they haven’t been able to pay their bills.

The Tennessee Poll in an annual public opinion poll conducted by ETSU, and has a margin of error of 3.9%. More than 600 people were surveyed, and additional analysis and full results can be found at http://www.etsu.edu/asrl/tnpoll.

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