British Columbia

B.C. Children's Hospital activates emergency overflow amid respiratory illness surge

B.C. Children's Hospital has activated emergency triage to manage a mounting volume of patients with respiratory illness, including flu and COVID-19, B.C.'s health minister has confirmed.

Health minister says emergency operations centres set up months ago have been activated

B.C. Children’s Hospital's emergency department is seeing more visits due to respiratory illnesses. Prior to April 2021, there were 135 visits per day. Now the ED averages 142-150 visits per day — up 20% when compared to this time last year. (Justine Boulin/CBC)

B.C. Children's Hospital has activated emergency triage to manage a mounting volume of patients with respiratory illness, including flu and COVID-19, B.C.'s health minister has confirmed.

"We're facing a significant amount of respiratory illness in emergency rooms across the province, particularly in children," Adrian Dix said on Wednesday.

Dix said emergency centres across the province, having anticipated a wave of increased respiratory illness in the fall, set up emergency operations centres in advance.

The overflow is used to provide care for lower-acuity cases, the health minister said.

"At B.C. Children's hospital that means the extraordinary staff there is setting up care to make it easier for people who come for emergency care," he said, noting that the increased volume will likely have an impact on scheduled surgeries.

Over the past few weeks, parents have raised concerns over lengthy wait times at the hospital ER, some telling CBC News they waited as long as 11 hours before a doctor saw them.

On Wednesday evening, wait times listed online clocked in at about six hours. CBC News has contacted the hospital and the Provincial Health Services Authority for comment.

Emily Gruenwoldt, the president and CEO of Children's Healthcare Canada, says the overnight crisis in pediatrics has been decades in the making. (Justine Boulin/CBC)

Mounting respiratory illnesses

Children's Healthcare Canada, a collection of child-health leaders nationwide, says health centres across the country have experienced a "critical surge in admissions of children and demand" this month.

"The convergence of health-care workforce shortages, a particularly difficult respiratory virus season, COVID-19, increased mental health admissions and longstanding backlogs for surgical, child development and diagnostic interventions have overwhelmed child and youth health-care systems within both hospital and community-based settings," it said in a statement released Nov. 18.

Emily Gruenwoldt, the president and CEO of CHC, said viruses are spreading quickly nationwide, with overburdened health-care systems ill-equipped to manage the influx.

"This idea of an overnight crisis in pediatrics has actually been decades in the making," she told CBC's On the Coast.

"Our children's health-care system from coast to coast is undersized. We don't have the physical infrastructure to meet the needs of children as they grow and develop, but we also don't have the highly specialized workforce that also takes care of these young kids.

"Our kids are now waiting longer for essential health-care service than many of our adults."

The organization is asking provinces and Ottawa to convene a First Ministers meeting between premiers, the prime minister and the chief nursing officer to build a plan addressing the children's health-care crisis.


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