Cook Children’s emergency departments in Fort Worth have seen an influx of patients, forcing the hospital to direct patients to outside facilities.
The early spike in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases has prompted the hospital to enact its ‘disaster code,’ meaning doctors and nurses are picking up extra shifts and working on their days off to care for ill kids.
In a 24-hour period, the emergency room saw 603 patients. Cook Children’s urgent care centers saw 760 patients during the same time frame.
“This is the very first small peak that we’ve seen, and we have not peaked out,” said Natalie Carpenter, director of emergency services.
She warned this is not something to take lightly as it’s only the beginning of cold and flu season. She estimated the number would increase to 700 patients daily at the peak.
ER physician Dr. Daniel Guzman told ABC News he had never seen numbers like this in his 21 years at Cook Children’s. RSV is one of his main concerns.
“Our ICU is filled with kids with RSV. We have a total capacity of about 38. We have 28 beds filled with RSV at this time,” Dr. Guzman said.
The rise in patients has forced staff to turn patients away and transport others to hospitals out of state, the report said.
Wait times have been up to 10 hours in the emergency room, and 95% of pediatric hospital beds in Trauma Service Area E in North Texas are full, according to the DFW Hospital Council.
“I need them to understand what a difficult situation that we’re in,” said Debbie Boudreaux, assistant vice president of nursing. “As a nurse that has been here for 35 years, I have never had to turn anyone away.”
RSV is usually seen in the heart of winter and early spring, but this significant increase in cases — a new patient checking into Cook Children’s every 2.5 minutes for 24 hours straight — is unusual.
“We are monitoring this closely because the increased volume in late October and anticipated in early November could indicate a very long flu and RSV season this year,” Stephen Love, president and CEO of the DFW Hospital Council, told NBC DFW.
“I’ve talked to many of our emergency departments last night; they’re treating more and more adults for flu,” he said. “It doesn’t mean they’re becoming an inpatient, but they’re in the emergency department.”
Another significant issue affecting hospitals is parents bringing children into the ER with only mild symptoms or testing requests. That, in addition to staffing shortages, is pushing up wait times and patient volumes.