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Virginia hospitals saw fewer births and more substance abuse-related stays in 2020

Physicians with the Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Virginia wear enhanced personal protective...
Physicians with the Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Virginia wear enhanced personal protective equipment inside the health system's facilities.(Photo courtesy of the Carilion Clinic)
Published: Apr. 15, 2021 at 11:14 AM EDT
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Hospitals in Virginia recorded a significant decline in birth-related visits throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, while alcohol- and drug-related hospitalizations rose compared to previous years

The data on substance use wasn’t a surprise amid a once-in-a-century public health crisis that’s seen record numbers of fatal overdoses across Virginia and nationwide. State officials have been highlighting the issue for months, warning that increased isolation, job losses and ensuing financial insecurity have led to rising reports of relapses. While the pandemic exacerbated the trend, hospitals have witnessed a growing demand for behavioral health and substance abuse treatment over the last several years, said Julian Walker, the vice president of communications for VHHA.

From 2019 to 2020, visits related to alcohol and drug use — and mental health crises connected to alcohol and drug use — increased by roughly 3.5 percent. But the decline in discharges related to pregnancy and childbirth wasn’t as predictable. VHHA pulled data from its inpatient database, which covers 91 hospitals across the state. Over the last year, discharges related to childbirth, pregnancy and the six-week period after delivery decreased by about 3.3 percent. Discharges related to newborn visits declined by nearly four percent.

Walker said the association included the data amid rising interest over whether the pandemic could lead to a COVID-19 baby boom. But in Virginia hospitals, at least, that wasn’t the case.

“At this point, we haven’t necessarily seen it, obviously,” Walker said. Discharges related to pregnancy, childbirth and newborn visits didn’t take the same hit as some other services during the early days of the pandemic when Gov. Ralph Northam issued a stay-at-home order and temporarily paused elective procedures.

But while discharge numbers for other conditions recovered — including stays related to HIV and male reproductive disorders — birth-related visits declined in 2020 and remained lower overall compared to the previous three years. David Vaamonde, VHHA’s vice president of data analytics, described the decline as an “interesting observation” that warranted follow-up research.

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