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Michigan children’s hospitals and pediatric healthcare leaders are raising awareness about a pediatric hospital bed shortage and urging the public to help prevent respiratory illnesses, which are rapidly spreading in the form of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza.

Michigan pediatric intensive care unit hospital beds are currently 89% occupied, according to data from the Michigan Health & Hospital Association (MHA) and Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS). Hospitals are also reporting large surges in young patients visiting emergency departments, for both emergent and non-emergent care. Hospitals are urging those with mild cold-like symptoms to stay at home. If symptoms worsen, an urgent care or primary care physician’s office would be the most appropriate setting to seek care, while emergency department visits should be reserved for those with moderate to severe symptoms including shortness of breath. Wait times and patient volumes in emergency rooms are increasing, and emergency department capacity in some areas is being depleted by visits for non-emergency medical conditions. Pervasive hospital staff shortages further complicate surges in hospital visits.

These pediatric bed shortages are impacting care statewide, making transfers of the sickest young patients to higher acuity care settings difficult.

The MHA and the MDHHS are monitoring the pediatric bed capacity among Michigan hospitals. Nationally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data shows that 76% of pediatric beds across the country are full, with anecdotal reports largely pinning the shortage on widespread RSV infections.

“In recent weeks we have seen a significant surge in cases of RSV which is most greatly impacting our infants and young children,” said Rudolph Valentini, MD, chief medical officer, Children’s Hospital of Michigan. “Since Oct. 1, more than 450 patients have tested positive for RSV at our hospital. This is putting a strain on our hospital’s emergency department and inpatient bed capacity; further, this could intensify if influenza cases begin to rise in the near future. It is also important to note that RSV and its associated bronchiolitis cause symptomatic disease in 20% of infants and children less than one year of age.”

The MHA and its pediatric clinical leaders and partners offer the following tips for the public:

—DON’T: Seek hospital emergency care for non-emergency medical conditions, such as mild symptoms and routine testing.

—DO: Seek hospital emergency care if symptoms are worrisome and emergency care is needed. Emergency medical conditions can include difficulty breathing, dehydration and worsening symptoms.

—DO: Immediately get vaccinated against respiratory illnesses. Visit www.vaccines.gov to search for vaccine availability or call your provider or the local health department.

—DO: Be patient if seeking care through a hospital emergency department. Consider that wait times may be elevated as respiratory illnesses reach seasonal peak levels.

—DO: Consider having your children wear a mask in public places, including school, when you know local case rates of respiratory illnesses are high.

—DO: Practice frequent and proper hand washing, and stay home if you’re not feeling well.