Some hospitals feel the squeeze as they care for high influx of pediatric RSV patients

Doctors say flu and COVID-19 vaccinations will do a lot to keep hospital beds open
An intensive care nurse ventilates a patient with RSV.
An intensive care nurse ventilates a patient with RSV. Photo credit Marijan Murat/picture alliance via Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Some U.S. pediatric hospitals are seeing an unusually high influx of kids with a untimely respiratory illness, and many health care professionals are concerned that, with flu and COVID-19 cases on a seasonal rise, there could be longer waits for hospital beds.

Respiratory syncytial virus — or RSV — is usually a springtime infection, prevalent in April and March, but it is hitting the Philadelphia area now in autumn, and Dr. James Reingold, emergency department chief at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in North Philadelphia, says that is affecting the ability of some hospitals to care for every patient. In fact, just this week, Reingold said, St. Christopher’s admitted two RSV patients from the Washington, D.C., area.

Reingold said he was astonished.

“Because that means Children's National is full. It means all the Inova health care pediatric facilities in the D.C. area are full. That means Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland and Baltimore is full. That means Nemours in Delaware is full. And finally you would come all the way up the Eastern Seaboard to us,” Reingold said.

“I don't think the urban referral centers are really prepared to have enough excess capacity to care for this influx.”

At the moment, Reingold says Philadelphia area pediatric hospitals are able to treat all kids who need care.

“But I do have some worry that, as the overlap of illnesses in the winter come, it's definitely putting an additional strain on the system,” he said.

Dr. Katie Lockwood, a primary care physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says she is not worried about hospitals being able to handle this surge in the long term.

“It's something that certainly happened a little earlier than we anticipated this year, and sometimes that can catch people off guard nationally,” Lockwood said.

Both Lockwood and Reingold acknowledge that hospital infrastructure has shifted over the past several years, with a reduction in pediatric hospital beds.

“There was a significant strain on hospital finances with the pandemic, as elective surgeries were delayed or declined. And we have seen, in the more community hospitals, a transition from pediatric beds to better-paying adult beds,” Reingold said.

He said the best way to avoid RSV is with proper hand washing, as there is currently no vaccine for it — “but we do, fortunately, have some strategies to help prevent the other winter viruses, and that would be vaccination against COVID and influenza.”

Lockwood says keeping up to date on vaccinations will help keep hospital cases down.

“I always say, ‘Flu before boo,’” she said, “which means: Get your flu shot before Halloween. You only have a few days left to really meet that deadline.”

And she says flu cases are starting to appear in the area — “so you want to start building that immunity as soon as possible.”

She adds the same goes for COVID-19 and COVID-19 booster shots.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Marijan Murat/picture alliance via Getty Images