EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — We’ve heard much about hospital rooms and emergency departments filling up lately but COVID cases are not solely to blame.

Those unseen conditions fall under mental health care. Eyewitness News spoke with a local healthcare provider’s Chief Medical Officer about dealing with mental health crises as the pandemic rages on.

Long waits in emergency departments and inpatient overcrowding have become the norm lately with rising COVID numbers and other issues requiring hospital attention. You can add mental health crises to the list.

“We are certainly seeing more behavioral health volume of patients throughout all of our facilities throughout this pandemic,” said David Lopatofsky, MD, Chief Medical Officer, UPMC North Central.

Some of that volume according to Dr. Lopatofsky is what he calls an indirect result of the pandemic added stress and anxiety caused by the unknown nature of COVID.

“It’s frightening. People either could have been laid off from their job or been asked to work extra in their job. Many, many patients have been impacted by family members who have been ill with COVID,” explained Lopatofsky.

Before such large numbers of patients sought hospital help in recent weeks, it’s been quite common for someone in crisis to seek help in an emergency room setting.

What do you tell somebody like that now during the pandemic when we’re dealing with hours upon hours of emergency room waits?

Dr. Lopatofsky says, “The first thing we would say is to reach out to your primary care provider if you have mental health or behavioral health provider, reach out to them as well. We also have many TeleHealth capabilities which work very well, specifically work very well for behavioral health concerns.”

Experts say it’s important for patients who struggle with mental health issues to have a treatment plan in place before reaching a crisis. But above all, Dr. Lopatofsky urges patients not to put off help which can be sought through sources besides the ER.

“So there’s a lot of other opportunities at this date and time that we could provide that care for patients without being in an overcrowded emergency room that is a stressful and challenging environment for both the patient and the staff,” stated Lopatofsky.

The non-profit organization, Mental Health America, has put together what it calls Think Ahead worksheets to help you or a loved one prepare before a mental health crisis.