Virginia hospitals experiencing pediatric bed shortage

Published: Oct. 27, 2022 at 9:22 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A spike in respiratory illness has led to a shortage of children’s hospital beds across Virginia.

While there has been a sizable increase in respiratory illnesses like the common cold, experts say Rhinovirus and RSV are driving up pediatric hospitalizations.

The Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU says they are operating at greater than 95% capacity because of the surge.

At the Chippenham Hospital, 35 dedicated pediatric beds are between its PICU, general pediatric floor, and Pediatric ER. The hospital says they’ve reached capacity, with approximately half of those patients currently infected with RSV. But the hospital says capacity is constantly changing thought out the day as patients are discharged or admitted.

Dr. Michael Miller, the medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at St. Mary’s Hospital, says its healthcare system has been similarly impacted by the spike in RSV cases.

“We’re seeing about a 40 percent increase compared to this time last year of inpatient pediatrics, and about 85 to 90 percent of them are related to RSV infections,” said Dr. Miller.

As a form of the common cold, RSV is a virus medical professionals deal with seasonally. However, the lack of exposure to RSV as a result of isolation from the pandemic has prevented children from experiencing the typical exposure to the virus in public settings where immunity could be built up over time.

The symptoms of RSV include upper airway congestion, coughs and fevers, but Miller says the virus can progress differently in children.

“It can progress to increased mucus production along the airways, which makes it more difficult for children to breathe where they may require more intensive respiratory support,” Miller said. “We’ve got about three years of children who haven’t been exposed to their common respiratory illnesses,” Miller said.

On top of supportive care at home and monitoring hydration and nutritional intake, Miller says the biggest thing parents with children infected with RSV need to monitor is their breathing.

“How fast are they breathing? Does it look like they are distressed or showing that they are using extra muscles in their chest to move air in and out of the lungs to help them with oxygenation?” Miller said. “When we see that, we definitely want to bring them.”

Miller says hydration is essential for younger babies infected with RSV, who may not be able to for a tight seal to take in liquids if they are experiencing congestion.

Miller says parents concerned about their child’s health should always be in contact with their pediatrician. Still, parents should never delay or withhold care if symptoms worsen, even with pediatric beds in short supply.

“All systems are making the necessary adjustment to be able to help with the throughput of the children that we’re seeing,” Miller said, “At St. Mary’s, we have expanded our acute pediatric beds, our acute care critical care beds to allow us to care for our patients. We’re in constant communication with all the other hospitals to identify the bed availability for them in the Richmond market and across the regions.”

Hospitals are encouraging everyone to wear their masks, wash their hands and stay out of crowded areas, especially with the winter and holiday season right around the corner.

Health experts say those precautions can reduce common respiratory illnesses like RSV by 98 percent.