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Ballad Health is urging people to “seek the appropriate level of care for their health needs” as hospitals are inundated with coronavirus patients.

“Emergency departments should be reserved for life- and limb-threatening situations, such as chest pain, severe injuries, difficulty breathing and stroke symptoms,” the statement issued Tuesday read. “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.”

Those who do arrive at local emergency departments will be triaged and receive care based on the urgency of their situation — not on a first-come first-served basis. For people who do not have life- or limb-threatening emergencies, long wait times are likely.

Ballad‘s statement also encouraged people to use the hospital system’s Virtual Urgent Care Clinic, a telehealth option that provides people with immediate access to care for common illnesses such as the cold, flu, sinus infections and strep throat. It also urged people to take advantage of one of the system’s 12 urgent care centers, which treat minor illnesses and injuries without appointments.

Anyone seeking COVID-19 testing should not go to an emergency room, and should instead find alternate testing sites through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Tennessee Department of Health or through one of Ballad’s drive-through sites. To schedule a testing appointment with Ballad, call the Nurse Connect line at (833) 822-5523.

“Additionally, there is no substitute for a relationship with, and the regular care provided by, a primary care provider,” the statement said. “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.”

The statement noted that if a person is in need of a primary care provider and does not currently have one, they can contact Ballad Health, “and we will be happy to connect these individuals to an appropriate provider.”

As of Wednesday, Ballad was treating a record 413 patients with COVID-19, 100 of whom were in intensive care with 72 on ventilators — both metrics also at a record high.

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