Emergency rooms at Chicago children's hospitals are overwhelmed with Covid patients


Emergency rooms at Chicago-area children's hospitals are overwhelmed with patients, causing long wait times. Doctors urge parents not to bring children to emergency rooms unless necessary

Chicago-area doctors are pleading with parents not to bring their children to hospital emergency rooms unless necessary, saying the unusual rise in respiratory illness is flooding pediatric emergency rooms and leading to long waiting times.

Dr. John Cunningham, chief medical officer, said the University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital is seeing a 79% increase in patients in its emergency room compared to the same time two years ago. He said this has led to the emergency room waiting times of up to four or five hours for children with less severe problems after being triaged. All patients are triaged upon arrival in hospital emergency rooms to determine who should be prioritized for care.

Dr. Elizabeth Alpern, chief of emergency medicine, said wait times in the emergency room at Lowry Children's Hospital have gone up nearly 300%. Lowry said she sees about 80% of children in her emergency stages this season compared to the same period last year, and about 25% more than previous years.

Dr. Frank Belmonte, chief medical officer, said Advocate Children's Hospital, which has two emergency campuses, sees the most significant number of emergency patients it has ever seen in August and September. He said waiting times for children with non-serious conditions are now often two to six hours.

Doctors say much of the increase in children heading to emergency rooms is due to the non-seasonal rise in respiratory illnesses other than COVID-19. Also, amid this latest wave of COVID-19, some parents may bring children with mild to moderate symptoms only because they are worried they have COVID-19 or want to get tested for COVID-19, doctors say.

"We see a lot of children with non-life-threatening respiratory illnesses who come into the emergency room, and we advise that pediatricians see many of those with mild viral symptoms or seen in urgent care," Cunningham said.

Usually, many children develop respiratory illnesses such as respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV, during the winter. But, this year, RSV arrived early. Doctors say this is likely because many of the children were quarantined at home last winter and did not fall ill until recent months when they began returning to daily care, socializing, and back to school.

"We expect this to become more serious as we enter the winter months," Cunningham said.

Alpern said the nationwide nursing shortage is exacerbating the situation.

"This confuses the health system and makes it difficult for us to be able to see those patients who have illnesses that need emergency care," she said.

Belmonte said that if the state had a bad flu season or another type of COVID-19 persists, "it's going to be hard to manage" for hospitals.

City and state health leaders and those from half a dozen Chicago area hospital systems are urging parents to bring children to pediatricians or urgent care centers if their symptoms are not severe. Parents should start by calling pediatricians, who often have answering services that can send them questions during off-hours, they say.

This does not mean, however, that all parents should avoid emergencies.

Children should be brought to emergency rooms if they have severe chest pain, difficulty breathing, fainting, coughing up blood, severe asthma attacks, and high fever with a headache; Neck stiffness, or sudden changes in the ability to walk talk, see or move. Parents should also bring children two months or younger with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher.

If a child is unresponsive or faces a life-threatening emergency, parents should call 911.

Dr. Alison Arwady, Chicago Department of Public Health, said: "The outbreak of COVID-19 remains well-controlled in Chicago — we only get an average of one COVID hospital admission per day for those under 18 — but this increase in local emergency departments is raising the stakes. anxiety." Commissioner, in a press release. " including vaccinating them if they qualify, they should only seek care in the emergency department if their child is seriously ill."

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