British Columbia

'Tis the season for longer emergency room waits for kids, says expert

Christy Hay, program manager of BC Children's Hospital Emergency Department says expect higher than normal volume in the ER during the holiday season and offers tips for parents about when to go and what to expect if a visit is necessary.

Parents can consider community services before making ER the first stop

Parents should be prepared for longer wait times in the emergency room at BC Children's Hospital during the holiday season. (CBC)

Waiting with a sick child in the emergency room can be an angst-ridden experience and people should expect to wait even longer during the holiday season.

Christy Hay, program manager of the BC Children's Hospital Emergency Department, said there are more pediatric patients during Christmas time, and the hospital brings in extra staff to cope.

Hay said despite the additional staffing, wait times can be up to five hours from admission to discharge, compared to the average 3.5 hours patients wait the rest of the year. 

Because of the high volume of patients, Hay said she is encouraging some parents to consider other community services before making the ER their first stop.

Hay told CBC On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko that seasonal parties and social events are partly to blame for the spike in ER traffic. She said being indoors with many people and sharing holiday food can mean germs spread quickly and lead to an increase in cough, cold and flu symptoms.

There are critical instances in which a child should be brought to emergency, according to Hay. These include signs of difficulty breathing or if they've fallen and lost consciousness. Hay also said if a child is experiencing mental health issues and could be at risk of hurting themselves then emergency can be the right place to go.

But not all situations require a rush to the ER.

Hay encourages parents to access their family doctor, visit walk-in clinics and use the 811 HealthLink BC telephone hotline before heading to the hospital first. 

"Medical care doesn't necessarily need to be sought in an emergency department," said Hay. "It's really the worst place to be, especially over the holidays."

Frequent hand washing reduces the risk of cold and flu by stopping the spread of germs. (Burst/Pexels)

To prevent getting sick in the first place, Hay recommended people get a flu shot and wash their hands frequently.

She also suggested parents of children who play sports should get their kids their own water bottle so they don't share with teammates.

And if the ER is unavoidable, Hay said the sickest kids are always seen first and early morning is your best bet for shorter wait times.

With files from CBC On The Coast