Pediatric units approach capacity across area hospitals amid flu and RSV surge

The health system in the Richmond area is feeling the strain as respiratory illnesses and flu cases surge among children.
Published: Nov. 28, 2022 at 5:48 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The health system in the Richmond area is feeling the strain as respiratory illnesses and flu cases continue to surge among children.

Right now, many pediatric units are functioning at or near capacity, leading to a shortage of beds.

Dr. Tiffany Kimdrough at VCU Children’s Hospital says there have been a few times when they’ve had no beds at all, forcing them to divert ambulances to other hospitals.

They have been running at about 95% capacity for over a month now.

“Operating at such high capacity and such high demand has been really challenging for everybody to rise to that on a sustained basis,” Dr. Kimbrough said.

She says nurses and doctors in VCU’s pediatric unit are spread thin, taking on long shifts.

RSV dominated the hospital floor the last few weeks, but Dr. Kimbrough says the flu is now taking center stage.

“On the floor right now, about a third of the kids that are here are in for a respiratory illness and then in the ICU, nine out of the 15 kids that are here are in for respiratory failure,” she said.

VCU is not the only Richmond-area hospital running near capacity.

Dr. Mike Miller at St. Mary’s Hospital says the pediatric ICU is functioning at 90% capacity. The pediatric unit as a whole is also seeing a surge.

“We’re functioning today at about 90% capacity, which is kind of where you’d like to expect to be at this time of year,” Dr. Miller said.

The biggest concern across the board is space. Several families have been forced to travel state-wide to find care.

“Some folks are kind of zigzagging all over the state to get the level of care that their child needs, just depending on where there’s an inpatient bed available,” Dr. Kimbrough said. “It’s really trying to figure out who has that bed capacity right now to meet the demand.”

Dr. Miller says the doctors in every Richmond-area hospital all huddle up each morning to figure out how to allocate resources.

“Every day at 8:15 a.m., we go over how’s VCU operating? How’s Chippenham operating? Where are they in terms of their status? Where are we? So we kind of know where to move the patients when you need to,” Dr. Miller said.

This flu surge hit the Richmond area far earlier this year.

Both doctors say there’s been a hesitancy to get the flu vaccine, and vaccines in general, this year.

All of this comes on top of a nursing shortage. Across the region, Dr. Kimbrough there is about a 30% vacancy rate.