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Children’s Hospital ER chief warns of ‘incredibly challenging winter’ ahead

Dr. Rod Lim, medical director for the pediatric emergency department, says Children's Hospital is experiencing record volumes as respiratory illness season gets underway. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

The medical director of the pediatric emergency department at Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), a London, Ont.-based hospital network, says “most of us in the pediatric sector are bracing ourselves for an incredibly challenging winter.”

Dr. Rod Lim shared the comments during a Wednesday morning news conference hosted by the Ontario Medical Association, which advised Ontarians to wear masks indoors and keep up with vaccinations as the province deals with a worsening respiratory illness season.

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Also on Wednesday morning, LHSC announced that its emergency departments were experiencing “higher than normal volumes,” with officials anticipating wait times of more than 20 hours for non-urgent and non-emergent concerns.

On Tuesday, it was announced that wait times for less serious concerns at Children’s Hospital were expected to exceed six hours.

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Similar issues are being seen across the province, with a recently-leaked Ontario Health report finding that many people were waiting longer to be seen at hospitals in September when compared to both the previous year and month.

“This year is extremely difficult,” Lim told the news conference, adding that he and his staff are seeing viruses circulate outside of when they’re usually expected to arrive.

“Currently, we are seeing tremendous numbers of patients coming in with respiratory illnesses, whether its RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), influenza or COVID-19,” Lim said.

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“It’s a little bit of a perfect storm right now … obviously we have a lot of manpower challenges that are faced in a lot of other areas and sectors, and on top of that we’ve been having a lot of (medication) supply chain issues as well.”

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Children’s Hospital’s pediatric emergency department is only built for about 100 visit per day, according to Lim. He says the hospital saw 200 visits on Monday, followed by 180 visits on Tuesday.

These make up record volumes for the hospital, with Lim predicting November to be Children’s busiest month ever.

“We are seeing lots of young infants who are coming in with respiratory symptoms of concern around bronchiolitis, that is the most concerning age group,” Lim added.

The observations are even more concerning, Lim said, given that viral spread tends to increase as the weather cool downs since people are more likely to congregate indoors.

“Traditionally, our busiest respiratory months are February, January and March. It’s only early November now, so we all anticipate that it will get worse before it gets better.”

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In order to avoid lengthy wait times at local emergency departments, LHSC advises would-be patients to know their health care options.

Those with non-emergency medical illnesses or injuries, such as a scrape, fever, earache or simple fracture, should consider calling their family doctor if they have one, or visiting an urgent care clinic or a walk-in clinic.

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Health-related advice from a registered nurse is also available 24-7 through Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 and virtual care options are also provided through Urgent Care Ontario. LHSC has a full list of alternative medical options available on its website.

For those who do plan on visiting an LHSC emergency department, the hospital network recommends bringing a snack, book, headphones, water bottle, phone charger or anything else to help with the wait.

— with files from Global News’ Colin D’Mello and Isaac Callan

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Health officials raise concerns over a flu epidemic and medication shortages

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