Delayed care linked to increase in NJ excess deaths during pandemic, report says

By Christopher Cheney

Delayed or deferred care likely contributed to excess deaths in New Jersey during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, a recent report from the New Jersey Hospital Association’s Center for Health Analytics, Research & Transformation (CHART) says.

Health systems, hospitals, and other healthcare organizations have reported significant decreases in service utilization in the early months of the pandemic linked to patient concern over becoming infected with COVID-19 in a healthcare setting. In a September 2020 New Jersey Hospital Association survey of a representative sampling of Garden State adults, 83% of survey respondents reported being concerned about going to a hospital due to fear of contracting COVID-19.

The CHART report includes several key data points on excess deaths based on information collected by the New Jersey State Health Assessment Data system:

  • In 2020, there were about 95,715 deaths in New Jersey.
  • In 2020, COVID-19 was the leading or primary cause of death for 16,458 people, leaving 79,257 deaths for other causes.
  • From 2017 to 2019, total annual deaths in New Jersey did not exceed 76,000. “Therefore, even when separating out deaths due to COVID-19, the total number of non-COVID-19 deaths in New Jersey throughout 2020 was roughly 4.3 percent higher than in previous years,” the CHART report says.

Two data trends indicate that delayed or deferred care likely played a role in the number of 2020 non-COVID-19 deaths in New Jersey: an increase in in-home deaths for conditions that typically would require hospitalization and a decrease in hospital admissions for serious conditions such as heart attack and stroke.

  • In 2020, total in-home deaths in New Jersey were 28% higher than the previous three-year average.
  • In 2020, in-home heart disease deaths in New Jersey were 24% higher compared to 2019.
  • In 2020, in-home stroke deaths in New Jersey were 39% higher compared to the average annual total in the prior three years.
  • In 2020, in-home diabetes deaths in New Jersey were 66% compared to the average annual total in the prior three years.
  • In 2020, the number of heart attack hospitalizations in New Jersey from April through June was 37% lower than the average over the same months in the previous three years.
  • In 2020, the number of stroke and other cerebrovascular disease-related hospitalizations in New Jersey from April through June was 25% lower than the average over the same months in the previous three years.

The data sheds light on the uncounted toll of COVID-19 for people who delayed seeking healthcare for life-threatening conditions during the pandemic, Cathy Bennett, president and CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association, said in a prepared statement. “During COVID’s peak in New Jersey in the spring of 2020, EMS teams throughout the state shared anecdotal reports of individuals who waited too long to seek care for life-threatening conditions. Sadly, this data indicates that those reports were not isolated and, in fact, may be counted among COVID’s terrible impact on New Jersey residents.”

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders. This story first appeared on HealthLeaders Media.