Capacity at pediatric hospitals across Michigan is strained as a record number of severely ill children with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, flood emergency rooms and fill hospital beds.
“There is not a hospital in Michigan that takes care of pediatric patients that has not told us that they are feeling stress right now, immense stress,” Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive, told the Free Press on Thursday.
At the University of Michigan Health’s CS Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, the wait in the emergency department is hours long and some elective procedures have been postponed to help manage the crush of patients.
“We have never seen a surge in pediatric respiratory viruses like this before,” said Luanne Thomas Ewald, chief operating officer at Mott and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, in a statement. “Our hospital is 100% full.”
Across the state at Corewell Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, some children are being treated in chairs because no rooms or even hallway beds are available. Many private rooms throughout the hospital have been converted to double rooms.
“We usually see on average around 145 kids a day in the emergency department, and we’re currently averaging over 225 kids a day,” said Dr. Erica Michiels, a pediatric emergency room physician at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “That means that you’re very likely going to have a wait unless your child is the sickest of children who was brought in.
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‘We don’t know where the peak is for this RSV season’
“You may receive your care in the hallway in a bed or in a chair. And the whole department is just going to feel very busy. But I want to reassure everyone it feels busy, but it’s very controlled. The emergency department staff is accused to deal with surges and we will take care of all of you. It just might take a little longer than it has in the past.”
There are generally about 24 children in the DeVos pediatric intensive care unit. On Wednesday, 42 kids were admitted to the ICU.
“When viruses hit communities, they tend to do it in a surge-like fashion,” Michiels said. “We don’t know where the peak is for this RSV season, but we have been on almost a vertical uprise for the last several weeks.
“Our entire system is working to make space for as many kids as we can. We are on daily calls with leaders from all over the state to talk about bed space that’s available. … We are really working to acknowledge this is not business as usual and we need to collaborate all across the state with all of the children’s hospitals and really try to make some creative solutions that we can act immediately — not dissimilar to what we did with adults during COVID.”
So far this season, Mott has treated 259 children with RSV — a 46% increase over 2021 — and hospital leaders said the situation is likely to get worse with the upcoming flu season and the possibility of another spike in COVID-19 cases.
“This is incredibly concerning because we haven’t even seen the full impact of flu season yet,” Thomas Ewald said.
Corewell Health East, the new name for Beaumont Health, began enforcing new visitor restrictions starting Monday to limit the spread of RSV, influenza, coronavirus and other respiratory illnesses at its eight southeastern Michigan hospitals. Children ages 5 and younger will not be permitted to visit, though exceptions can be made in extraordinary circumstances.
When to seek emergency care for your child
Doctors urge parents of children with respiratory illnesses call their primary care physician before bringing them to the hospital to ensure they need emergency care.
“The vast majority of children with RSV experience cold symptoms and can rest and recover at home,” said Dr. Kimberly Monroe, interim chief clinical officer and pediatric hospitalist at Mott. “However, if they’re showing any signs of severe illness, such as trouble breathing, they may need immediate care and should be brought to the emergency department. We’re particularly concerned about children under the age of 2.”
Like DeVos, Motts also has a shortage of beds and full emergency department, with wait times that can be hours long.
“We’re working very closely with our partners around the state to find space for children who need care even if it’s not at our hospital,” Thomas Ewald said. “We’re also looking at unique ways to increase our bed capacity during the surge.”
What are the signs that my child might need to go to the emergency room with RSV?
Infants can’t tell their parents when they’re struggling to breathe. Doctors have told the Free Press caretakers should watch for the following symptoms:
- Wheezing or grunting noise
- Nostrils flaring and/or muscles in the neck, chest or abdomen are strained when trying to breathe
- Not eating well
- Excessive fussiness or excessive lethargy
- Bluish coloring of the skin
- Dehydration, which shows up in infants as fewer wet diapers
- Apnea episodes
Contact Kristen Shamus: [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus. Subscribe to the Free Press.