‘Unprecedented surge’ of RSV patients causes more surgery delays at children’s hospital

Nov 28, 2022, 5:56 PM | Updated: 10:57 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Primary Children’s Hospital announced Monday that about 50 elective, prescheduled surgeries that require overnight stays for patients will be delayed so the hospital can treat the massive influx of children who are sick with RSV and other respiratory illnesses.

The hospital said in a statement that in order to “provide excellent care, and to ensure that staffing and resources are best able to meet patient needs during this busy time, the hospital is delaying as many of this week’s prescheduled, nonemergency procedures and surgeries that would require an inpatient stay as possible.”

Those 50 surgeries account for about 10% of all surgeries scheduled this week at Primary Children’s. It’s the second time this month hospital administrators have made the decision to postpone elective surgeries due to a high number of patients with respiratory illnesses.

“We don’t take this action lightly,” said Dr. Andrew Pavia, a pediatric infectious diseases physician for the hospital, during a press conference Monday afternoon.

Even though the hospital has had many preventative measures put in place to deal with the expected surge of the cold season, this year has seen an “unprecedented surge” in RSV accompanied by large amounts of influenza and COVID-19 cases, he said.

The hospital is currently operating at full capacity for a surge, meaning they have converted some clinical spaces into inpatient rooms and put two patients in rooms that typically only hold one. In spite of those efforts, Pavia said the hospital is pushed to the limit and every day they are doing their best to help children get well enough so they can send them home and make room to admit other sick children.

“Our patient volumes are exceeding typical winter surge levels, and the hospital has been at or near capacity for several consecutive weeks,” said Dustin Lipson, administrator of Primary Children’s Hospital. “This is combined with high volumes of patients coming to the emergency department for other various illnesses and injuries.”

The emergency room has set records for the number of children being seen in a single day for two of the last four days, Pavia said, causing it to be “extraordinarily busy.” The emergency room team has been stepping up to meet the demand of patients, but there is limited space available for patients, which led to the decision in delaying those elective, prescheduled surgeries, Pavia said.

“We have taken this action really as the way to provide the best and safest care for the kids who need it,” Pavia said. “Unfortunately, it does cause inconvenience for some families who are having scheduled surgeries canceled.”

Utah family deals with RSV scare

The Goaslinds know all too well about RSV. Their 2-and-a-half-month-old baby, Jamie, came down with it just before Thanksgiving.

At first, they thought it was just a cold. 

“Our older kids are in elementary school and always bring home gunky, yucky stuff,” Carissa Goaslind said. “Jamie was the last to get sick.”

By Sunday night, the baby had taken a turn. They said he turned white, so they rushed him to the emergency room at Mountain West Medical Center in Tooele, and within minutes, medical teams were rushing to help him.

“They didn’t have a room ready. Nothing,” Goaslind said. “But they just pulled a bed in the hallway, had me put him up there, and people were just rushing back and forth, putting oxygen on him, testing him.”

The medical team then told Carissa she and her baby were getting on LifeFlight to get to Primary Children’s Hospital. When they arrived, they were rushed to the pediatric ICU, where tests revealed baby Jamie had RSV and COVID.

Fortunately, the night before Thanksgiving, the Goaslinds were able to take baby Jamie home, something of which they are very thankful.

How best to help the hospital

Pavia said the best thing to help the hospital right now is to stay out of the ER and keep children healthy and away from sick people. Mild symptoms in adults can easily be passed onto children, who will then exhibit more severe symptoms potentially requiring hospital visits, he said.

“If not for yourself, then do it for our community,” Pavia said about getting the flu and COVID-19 vaccines. Getting the flu shot, COVID-19 vaccines, wearing a mask when you show symptoms and more can prevent illness.

Because RSV and influenza haven’t reached their peak yet, Pavia said the hospital is expecting some tough weeks ahead. Primary Children’s will be re-evaluating daily whether more elective surgeries will need to be delayed.

Elective surgeries that don’t require overnight stays are still being held normally but could also be delayed if things get worse, Pavia said.

“I know how difficult this is going to be for some of our families. We wouldn’t do it if we had any other choice,” Pavia said. “We are not going to delay any surgery that is going to endanger any child. But we know it will cause some inconvenience and maybe some expense.”

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‘Unprecedented surge’ of RSV patients causes more surgery delays at children’s hospital