The emergency department at the Alberta Children’s Hospital continues to be very busy with a large number of children with complex mental health needs seeking care and adding to the wait times.
“The emergency department is extremely busy,” said Dr. Stephen Freedman, professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at the University of Calgary.
“The team is doing an amazing job keeping up with the acuity, complexity and the number of patients that we are handling. It really is a challenging environment right now on the pediatric side with a lot of children with respiratory illness presenting across the age spectrum,”
Freedman said there are a few unusual factors this year: normally the hospital sees a peak in viral respiratory illness through late fall up to March.
This is year the peak is later.
COVID-19 combined with influenza means more illness now in the ER than during the past two years of the pandemic.
Freedman said that is likely due to public health measures not being in place anymore and people resuming regular activities.
“We are seeing children who are slightly older than we would typically see being a little bit more unwell from some of the viruses they may have encountered typically when they were six- or 12-months-old. Now we are seeing them present is three- or four-year-olds, and they are a bit sicker than they typically would have been,” Freedman said.
“That is definitely keeping the emergency departments and staff very busy.”
Infectious disease experts say being fully vaccinated still helps reduce the likelihood of severe illness from COVID-19 in children.
As of May 16, just nine per cent of children aged 12 to 14 had their third dose and 18 per cent of youth 15 to 19 had a booster shot.
“It’s been a bit distressing to see that the third dose is lagging behind the other two doses especially when we know that the third dose seems to make such a difference when it comes to omicron in terms of preventing severity and hospitalizations,” said Dr. Cora Constantinescu, a pediatric infectious disease doctor at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.
On top of the viral illness, there’s kids suffering from mental health issues at the hospital.
“We have quite a mental health pandemic going on in children. A large number of children with complex mental health needs are seeking care as they rightly should be. There is a shortage of beds and space for them, which then limits the amount of space available to treat all the other children in the emergency department,” Freedman said.
Hospital staff and their children are not immune to illness. On some days Freedman said there have been staff shortages at ACH.
“We thank everyone for their patience and when it comes to trauma care and those sick kids — we always prioritize those kids. We do everything to ensure we are ready for them when they come through,” said Dr. Jonathan Guilfoyle, an emergency physician at Alberta Children’s Hospital.
“If your child is sick and unwell come and see us. Don’t let the wait deter you. If you are able to see your primary care provider you might save yourself a wait. If your kids are sick, stay home so we don’t continue to spread these viruses around.”
It’s taking longer for kids to be admitted and discharged from emergency at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, according to data from Alberta Health Services.
Two years ago, at this time 80 per cent of visits at the ER were admitted within 8 hours. As of last week, that number is down to 50 per cent.