LHSC Children’s Hospital expands pediatric critical care unit amid holiday season surge

The London Health Science Centre's paediatric critical care unit (PCCU). London Health Science Centre

As Children’s Hospital officials say the holiday season is often the busiest time of the year for their Emergency Departments, the London Health Science Centre expanded its pediatric critical care unit.

According to the hospital, the pediatric critical care unit or PCCU expanded by 60 per cent to manage increased patient volumes as of Tuesday.

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Like most pediatric hospitals across the province, the local Children’s Hospital said it continues to see an “unprecedented increase” in the number of youth seeking immediate medical care as capacity volumes reached 120 per cent last week.

To combat the rise of visits, the hospital unveiled the PCCU Annex, “a preexisting care space fully equipped to manage up to eight additional critical care pediatric patients.”

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“As this situation evolves, it’s our priority to ensure we are finding innovative solutions to maintain critical care capacity,” said Nash Syed, president of Children’s Hospital, in a statement. “The additional beds will provide the space we need to treat some of our most vulnerable pediatric patients while supporting patient flow to other areas.”

Prior to the PCCU Annex opening, an internal message was sent out to employees asking those with critical care and pediatric experience if they would be willing to volunteer for redeployment to the expanded unit.

As a result, health officials said that the “PCCU Annex is staffed to support and sustain the increase in bed capacity.”

“Words cannot express the gratitude I have for our health-care teams,” Syed said. “This is a challenging time for everyone, but I truly appreciate the staff’s willingness to step in and care for the patients we serve. In this constantly changing environment, our staff choose to adapt and meet the moment every day, and for this, I’m truly grateful.”

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Speaking of rapidly changing environments, according to Tim Lynch, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital, the holiday season is the busiest time of the year for the pediatric ER.

“The surge has hit us with all these respiratory viruses,” he said. “We are always anticipating greater volumes above baseline this time of year and there’s many variables for that.”

Lynch said specifically Boxing Day tends to be the “busiest of the holiday season.”

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“I think that is something that, pre-pandemic, was always the case,” he explained. “It’s the day after Christmas where everybody’s getting back to a different pattern and there’s lots of potential reasons for that, whether it’s children that had been inadvertently exposed to something, or got into something, or some form of injury given that children might be out doing things outside and things like that.”

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He added that the London Health Science Centre is “always understaffed over the holiday season,” including the Children’s Hospital. But in light of the new PCCU Annex, Lynch said that it has extra staff ready and on board, especially on Boxing Day.

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“What I’ve observed over the last several months is that the patients and families that we’ve been serving have been very understanding of the demands that we’re seeing,” he said. “We try to see those that need to be seen as quickly as possible and if you’re there with something that can wait, please understand that that does sometimes need to happen.”

Additionally, London Health Science Centre has expanded its emergency department wait times webpage to include Children’s Hospital, giving expecting and incoming patients and their families real-time wait estimates.

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The new pediatric-focused webpage follows the wait times website issued last month for emergency departments at Victoria Hospital and University Hospital.

The average wait time page for now shows current wait time estimates for emergency departments at the Children’s Hospital.

For family members and care partners with pediatric patients triaged in the PCCU Annex, LHSC advises the following:

  • one care partner is permitted at a time
  • each pediatric patient is triaged based on acuity and appropriately placed in a care space in which they will receive the appropriate level of medical support
  • with limited space available in the PCCU Annex, health-care teams will work closely with care partners to find appropriate rest areas.

Rest areas include the PCCU Sleep Room and Ronald McDonald House as the hospital “understands that parents want to be as close to their child as possible during this difficult time.”

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