The surge in sick kids has B.C.’s Surrey Memorial Hospital seeing quadruple as many patients as their emergency department was designed for, and 100 more kids per day than last year – making it one of the busiest pediatric units in the country.
Much of the attention during the fall spike in respiratory viruses among children has been directed at BC Children’s Hospital, where they activated an emergency department overflow on Tuesday, but Surrey is facing a much more serious situation.
“The pediatric ER has been overrun for a while now and we have expanded into the adult side, where right now we’re using two treatment beds,” said Dr. Randeep Gill, an emergency physician at SMH.
“We’re seeing approximately 250 kids per day during the surge but it was built for 72 patient visits per day.”
Gill says with only 12 treatment rooms in the emergency department, they’re treating patients “wherever we can”, with kids waiting in hallways and some clinical assessments taking place in the waiting room. There are only 16 beds for admission for overnight treatment.
BC Children’s Hospital has 35 treatment rooms in their emergency department and are seeing only 165 children per day.
CTV News has spoken with a number of hospitalist pediatricians in recent weeks who all describe seeing more severe illness in kids this year than usual for the fall respiratory season. Gill agrees, and revealed they have to resuscitate some of those children.
“(Resuscitation) happens very frequently here,” he said of the hospital’s pediatric emergency department.
“The number one cause of cardiac death is respiratory failure. When the lungs are infected by a virus, children do decompensate the fastest from respiratory failure so we’re seeing a significant number of those cases as well.”
PARENTS FRUSTRATED AND FEARFUL
Severely ill children require overnight care and sometimes even extended care in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), which has led to the cancellation of scheduled surgeries for other kids, including those with life-threatening conditions.
Some children who need non-emergency medical treatment are getting squeezed out of hospital as the system appears to be failing all but the most serious cases.
“She’s suffering,” a mom CTV News is identifying only as Janice said about her daughter, who’d been waiting to see a doctor in the BCCH emergency department for more than five hours. Photos of the child show a massive abscess protruding from her skull and braided hair.
“We went to Surrey Memorial yesterday, after we’d been there the day before and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her,” said Janice, whose child was running a fever. “The day before, we’d been and they sent us home at 3 a.m. because there was no bed there, no bed in Abbotsford, no bed in (BC) Children’s Hospital.”
Both mother and child were exhausted, and Janice was emotional as she said “it’s frustrating because I just need help for her. I’m tired of going to the hospital over and over.”
BC CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL DOWNPLAYS THE SITUATION
Despite an internal memo calling the influx of young patients a “surge storm” of illness, the executive director of clinical operations for BCCH downplayed the situation, calling their patient load “pretty normal seasonally.”
When CTV News pointed out 12 hour waits have become normal, which wasn’t the case before, Christy Hay suggested a new electronic records system with public reporting made those waits more noticeable, but acknowledged that system was also slowing down the process for healthcare workers.
Hay initially said that there are 55 care spaces in the BCCH emergency department, but when pressed admitted that “we operate about 35 of those clinical care spaces right now with current staffing.”
Of the emergency department overflow, she called it a “satellite clinic that we’re staffing with our pediatricians and nursing staff” for less urgent cases, and when asked why they’re seeing so few patients compared to SMH with more resources, she claimed the patient needs are not the same.
“We are seeing a lot of higher acuity patients,” said Hay. “We definitely take patients from other hospitals, because we are the only level 1 trauma centre for pediatrics in the province and we’re the only quaternary hospital for BC.”
But that’s a problem that’s been the cause of much consternation south of the Frase. The Surrey Memorial Hospital Foundation has been tracking funding and says on a per capita basis, Vancouver Coastal Health residents see $3,033 per person versus just $2,229 in Fraser Health.
“(Surrey Memorial Hospital’s pediatric unit) used to have 24 funded overnight beds and that’s decreased to 16 now. So, a lot of the critically ill children, we have to send them out to BC Children’s Hospital,” said Gill. “It’s extremely frustrating to see that we are the fastest-growing city, but we are not able to take care of our kids in our city.”