Pediatric respiratory cases flooding WA children’s hospitals
Children’s hospital officials across the state issued urgent appeals to families on Monday as emergency rooms, particularly in western Washington, became overloaded with young patients suffering from respiratory infections.
Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, infection is making an earlier than usual appearance this year, along with the flu, wreaking havoc on children and young patients across the state. The outbreak follows years of COVID isolation, low RSV infection rates and strict masking in public places.
As a result, the virus is spreading faster amid greater vulnerability and less herd immunity, officials said Monday at a Washington State Hospital Association briefing. The wave is overwhelming pediatric practices, urgent care centers and emergency rooms.
For the pediatric medical community, “This is our COVID,” said Ben Whitworth, chief operating officer of Tacoma-based Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and Health Network. “This should be on everyone’s mind,” he said, as the hospital faces “unprecedented increases and patient volumes.”
Dr Mary Alice King, Medical Director of the Pediatric ICU at Harborview, and other officials said everyone should focus on preventative measures to help relieve medical pressure, including staying home in case illness, emphasize good hygiene and wash hands thoroughly, as well as vaccinated against COVID and flu.
“I think right now we need a big PR campaign because I don’t think people understand that,” King said. “I think people are so tired of COVID and they don’t understand the urgency of what we’re talking about.
“We need to flatten that RSV curve and we need to think proactively about flattening the flu curve.”
Officials announced grim percentages of overflowing emergency rooms and families apparently shocked by patient wait times in hospitals.
At Mary Bridge on Monday morning, Whitworth said, there were 23 patients in the waiting room. “We have children in our waiting room who have been waiting since 10 p.m. last night, so more than 12 hours.”
He noted that more than 60% of his emergency room visits and about 80% of his hospital admissions are related to breathing.
The situation was no better elsewhere, as few available beds and staffing shortages exacerbate the RSV outbreak. Budgets and the availability of travel nurses have shrunk, officials noted, as hospitals across the country still compete for travellers.
Incentive compensation is offered to existing staff to help cover shifts.
“We are in crisis mode … borderline if not already in disaster mode in our emergency departments across the state,” said Dr. Tony Woodward, medical director of emergency medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
During Monday’s press conference with reporters, Woodward noted that his hospital was “at 200% capacity at this time of day, which is almost unheard of.”
“We’re terrified that we can’t take care of all the children,” said King, who also represented the Washington Medical Coordinating Center for Pediatrics at Monday’s briefing.
Dr. Mike Barsotti, administrative director of Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Spokane, said it was only a matter of time before the east side of the state would see the same level of cases.
“We’re definitely in a surge that we’re just building to the level that’s described on the west side. … We are not going to escape it,” Barsotti said.
Washington’s low patient bed count, which drew attention during COVID surges of years past, is once again in the spotlight with even fewer pediatric beds available.
“We only have about 500 pediatric beds in Washington state,” King said. “And of those, only 122 are pediatric intensive care beds.”
Children’s behavioral health cases are also increasing demand for the region’s emergency departments, as patients come to emergency departments “unable to access these services in the community,” said WSHA’s executive vice president. , Taya Briley.