Sicker kids mean longer waits in the ED
We take an inside look into why the ED is so busy
It’s still technically flu season, but that’s not the only illness that has families flocking to the Emergency Department (ED) at Cook Children’s.
Ailments run the gamut from respiratory and fever issues (RSV and influenza) to gastroenteritis with vomiting, diarrhea and severe dehydration. And while there’s not one illness that stands out, one thing is for sure – children in the ED are sicker than they’ve ever been.
“Our ED is running beyond full capacity and has been since December. But in the last few weeks we’re seeing a larger number of very ill children than even during flu season.” said Corwin Warmink, M.D., assistant medical director of the Emergency Department at Cook Children’s. “The sicker the child, the longer it takes to diagnose, treat and properly care for them.”
In December, 20 to 30 kids were admitted for treatment per day from the Emergency Department, but by February, those numbers jumped to about 40 to 50 children a day.
The Emergency Department is averaging nearly 400 patients per day, and during its busiest times a patient will check in every two minutes.
Overall, children appear to be sicker this year. Compared to this time last year, Cook Children’s has seen a 60 percent increase in the percentage of children who need critical care.
As the number of patients admitted and treated in the ED increases, so does the time physicians spend with each child, which contributes to the much longer waiting times.
Depending on the severity of the illness or injury, it could take 4 to 6 hours to care for a child. But it’s not just one physician treating that child. Nurses and health care providers may be brought in too.
“Many of the children we see are dealing with very serious emergencies and they receive immediate care,” Dr. Warmink said. “We use all necessary resources and manpower to care for those children. Unfortunately, that means longer wait times for the families in the waiting room.
“Families could spend anywhere from 5-10 hours or longer in our waiting room, depending on the day they visit. We are actively bringing in extra doctors, nurses and support staff to try and improve these times.”
Dr. Warmink advises parents that Sundays and Mondays are the busiest days of the week in the ED. Evenings after 5 p.m. seem to be popular too.
Families with sick kids who aren’t experiencing emergencies do have other options. The first line of defense is your child’s pediatrician. Making an appointment with a child’s doctor may help avoid a long wait at the ED. Cook Children’s also has several Urgent Care Clinics for non-emergent needs.