CHEO expects surge in respiratory cases to continue another 4-6 weeks

CHEO is preparing for the current surge in children and youth with respiratory illnesses requiring care to continue through the holiday season, and is urging everyone to wear a mask in crowded indoor spaces, including schools.

The children’s hospital is taking a number of steps to deal with what it calls the “sustained and unprecedented surge” in patients, including announcing on Friday that all 16-year-old and 17-year-old patients will be sent to adult hospitals for emergency and inpatient care.

“We are planning for the worst and hoping for the best, but we feel we’ve reached a level that we’re going to need to stay at, probably, at least for the next four to six weeks,” Dr. Lindy Samson, CHEO Chief of Staff, said on Friday.

“We’re doing everything possible to ensure that we’re able to be there for kids to be able to provide care for that period of time.”

The emergency department is seeing an average of 241 patients a day in November.  On Friday morning, CHEO’s pediatric unit was operating at 200 per cent capacity, while the inpatient medicine unit is at 190 per cent capacity.

Earlier this fall, CHEO announced it was cancelling some non-urgent surgeries and procedures, opening a second pediatric intensive care unit and redeploying clinicians and staff to help in the ICU.

Following a directive issued by Ontario Health, all youth over the age of 16 requiring emergency care or admission to an inpatient unit will be redirected to the Ottawa Hospital, Queensway-Carleton Hospital and the Montfort Hospital.

“Our teams are ready and prepared to provide this care,” Ottawa’s hospitals said in a joint statement, adding young people are always welcome at all emergency departments in the city.

CHEO President and CEO Alex Munter says the hospital speaks with Ontario Health “every single day” about issues at the hospital, and CHEO raised the possibility of sending older patients to other hospitals to alleviate pressure.

Sampson adds the majority of children needing to come into the Emergency Department or requiring admission are under the age of five.

“Every little bit helps and so while there’s fewer 16 and 17 year olds, we are very grateful to our partner hospitals who have agreed to be the first ones to see those patients moving forward,” Sampson said, adding it will ensure CHEO has the space to see the younger patients.

The directive redirecting 16 and 17-year-olds to adult hospitals does not apply to youth with eating disorders, youth who have experienced sexual assault or youth already being treated by CHEO for chronic conditions.

“Providing care to 16- and 17-year-olds is not new for the region’s adult hospitals. It has happened in the past on a case-by-case basis,” the hospitals said.

“In addition, the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre will continue to work with CHEO as well the adult hospitals to provide specialized mental health services for 16- to 18-year-olds.”

The hospital is urging people to wear a mask in crowded indoor spaces, including schools, and staying home when you’re sick.


CHEO is reporting a rise in the number of children requiring resuscitation this month.

In the first two weeks of November, 44 children have required resuscitation, compared to 17 children in the first two weeks of November last year.

“A high proportion of those children are the younger babies and many of them with fever or respiratory distress,” said Dr. Ken Fario, vice-president Quality, Strategy and Family Partnership at CHEO. “They need urgent and quick assessment and then intervention to help with their breathing or to help with their circulation to help stabilize them quickly so they can go on to receive the ongoing care that they need.”

Resuscitation is a procedure for patients struggling to breathe.

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