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CHEO suspends virtual ER service as in-person demand picks up

CHEO is pressing pause on its virtual emergency department as in-person care demand ramps up.
CHEO is pressing pause on its virtual emergency department as in-person care demand ramps up. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Ottawa’s children’s hospital is suspending the first-of-its-kind virtual emergency department services to shift resources back to in-person care.

CHEO said in an announcement Wednesday that the pause will last for at least 90 days.

“This suspension allows CHEO to reassign much-needed staff from virtual care to providing in-person support to kids and families who are coming to our emergency department,” the Eastern Ontario pediatric hospital said in a release.

CHEO said it has seen “extraordinary demand” for in-person urgent care since the summer months.

Read more: New CHEO care centre in Ottawa to bring disparate services under one roof

In October, the ER at CHEO cared for more than 7,100 kids and youth in-person, up 68 per cent year-over-year. That’s also higher than the typical month in “peak viral season,” stretching from December to April, the hospital said.

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CHEO launched its virtual emergency department in May 2020 in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was believed to be the first offering of its kind in Canada.

At the time, CHEO’s chief executive Alex Munter said the hospital was seeing a significant decline in emergency room visits attributed to general unease around in-person care in the pandemic.

The hospital said it remains “committed to offering virtual care options” in the future, with expectations the remote ER visits will resume.

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