RSV, flu season see pediatric hospitals 300% over capacity

Nov 15, 2022, 2:32 PM | Updated: 6:56 pm
Respiratory Therapist Adel Al Joaid treats Melissa Wartman, a COVID-19 patient, in the ICU at Rush University Medial Center on January 31, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. Respiratory therapists work with physicians and nurses to help patients restore and maintain normal lung capacity and blood/oxygen levels. After two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to an estimated 1,000,000 American deaths. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

According to the Washington State Hospital Association, pediatric hospitals are operating under a series of crises, from staffing shortages to bed infrastructure to behavioral health.

The two largest children’s hospitals in western Washington, Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma and Seattle Children’s Hospital, continue to experience crowded conditions because of the large number of patients with RSV. All hospitals in our state say they continue to be overloaded with cases of respiratory illness–particularly in children.

Virus puts ‘even greater strain’ on hospitals, officials warn

RSV is a respiratory virus inundating emergency rooms throughout the state when pediatric hospitals are already dealing with a rise in cold and flu cases. There are a variety of symptoms, but the most common are difficulty breathing and a loss of appetite, specifically among infants.

Tony Woodward, Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Medical Director of Emergency Medicine, said they are operating at “100% capacity almost 24 hours a day and in the evenings up to 300% capacity.”

“It’s a huge volume, huge surges, the viruses, the triple-demic as we’ve talked about, that’s really a twin-demic at the moment with the flu and RSV,” Woodward said. “[There’s] a lack of availability in the hospitals which are full, and a lack of availability in the communities which are full, compounded by the staffing crisis in all those places, has really led to a spot where the [emergency department] is the last resort for many of these patients.”

The pairing of more patients and low hospital staffing has made it incredibly difficult for hospitals to accommodate patients quickly, and Woodward said he does not see the crunch ending any time soon.

“We know that RSV came a couple of weeks ago, and RSV is a disease we see every year, it came a little earlier than expected on top of some COVID, which was dropping a little bit,” Woodward said. “And now, in the last week or so, the flu has raised its head. So we’re going to have an awful lot of very sick children, many who just need symptomatic therapy for many who are sick.”

Most RSV infections resolve themselves without medical intervention in approximately one to two weeks. Still, for kids with underlying lung or cardiovascular problems, the illness can become more serious.

In fact, Seattle Children’s reported Monday night was on target to be the busiest night they’ve ever had in the emergency room.

Hospital officials say people should still come to the emergency room in a true emergency — but should look to urgent care or their primary care provider as a first resource.

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RSV, flu season see pediatric hospitals 300% over capacity