ABQ hospitals see flood of pediatric patients

UNMH, other ABQ hospitals see influx of young patients; here’s why

Kara Garner carries hot towels on November 14, 2022, to a room in the new 12-bed unit set up to treat young patients affected by the RSV surge, which is having an impact on hospitals. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Local hospital officials say they are operating above capacity because of an influx of young children getting sick with different viruses, including the Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV.

It’s common for hospitals to see an increase in people sick with respiratory viruses around January, but this year’s surge started months earlier than normal, raising alarm about patient volumes at local hospitals this winter. At the University of New Mexico, the children’s hospital was at 119% capacity on Monday morning, said Maribeth Thornton, the associate chief nursing officer.

Physicians at UNMH, Presbyterian Healthcare Services and the Lovelace Health System held a news conference Monday morning to warn parents of the trend.

“Because of these multiple viruses hitting all at once many of our clinics and hospitals are really feeling the strain,” said Dr. Anna Duran, the associate medical officer at UNM Children’s Hospital.

Part of the reason for the increase is many young children today haven’t been exposed to viruses as much as in past years because of the COVID-19-related restrictions they grew up in.

“I think that there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic, and the restrictions that we had in place, are playing a role in what we’re seeing right now,” said Dr. John Pederson, the medical director of children’s care at Presbyterian. “The masking, the social distancing, the hand hygiene, all of the things that were in place during the COVID-19 pandemic did a good job of limiting the spread of COVID-19, but also RSV and influenza. So absolutely, we are seeing children that typically would have been exposed to these viruses in the past … And so we do kind of have this immunity gap in the community.”

UNMH launched an emergency operations center to better coordinate the response to the increase in sick children. The hospital officials said they are working with each other to spread out the cases across different hospitals.

As during previous COVID surges, local hospitals have taken steps to create more space to treat patients. The difference between the last two winters and now is that the current patients are young, while during COVID many were older.

On November 14, 2022, UNM Hospital RN Alisha Sanchez, left, and Dr. Anna Duran go over the chart of a young patient affected by the RSV surge, which is having an impact on hospitals. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

On Monday, in a new 12-bed unit created to treat young patients, children’s screams and cries echoed through the hallways as nurses ran by with hot towels to try to calm the young patients.

Many of the patients during the latest surge are less than a year old. But local 5-year-olds have needed additional oxygen to battle respiratory viruses.

Dr. Vesta Sandoval, the medical director at Lovelace, urged parents to teach their children to wash their hands, consider wearing a mask in public spaces and stay up-to-date on vaccinations. The physicians also advised parents not to go to work when they are sick and to keep sick children home from school or day care.

Symptoms of the viruses include cough, congestion, fever, diarrhea and vomiting.

The doctors said that parents should take their children to primary care doctors or the urgent care if their children have a fever for three days and appear to be getting dehydrated. If the children are having difficultly breathing and are clearly dehydrated they should go to an emergency room.

Local hospital officials say they are operating above capacity because of an influx of young children getting sick with different viruses, including the Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV.

It’s common for hospitals to see an increase in people sick with respiratory viruses around January, but this year’s surge started months earlier than normal, raising alarm about patient volumes at local hospitals this winter. At the University of New Mexico, the children’s hospital was at 119% capacity on Monday morning, said Maribeth Thornton, the associate chief nursing officer.

Physicians at UNMH, Presbyterian Healthcare Services and the Lovelace Health System held a news conference Monday morning to warn parents of the trend.

“Because of these multiple viruses hitting all at once many of our clinics and hospitals are really feeling the strain,” said Dr. Anna Duran, the associate medical officer at UNM Children’s Hospital.

Part of the reason for the increase is many young children today haven’t been exposed to viruses as much as in past years because of the COVID-19-related restrictions they grew up in.

“I think that there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic, and the restrictions that we had in place, are playing a role in what we’re seeing right now,” said Dr. John Pederson, the medical director of children’s care at Presbyterian. “The masking, the social distancing, the hand hygiene, all of the things that were in place during the COVID-19 pandemic did a good job of limiting the spread of COVID-19, but also RSV and influenza. So absolutely, we are seeing children that typically would have been exposed to these viruses in the past … And so we do kind of have this immunity gap in the community.”

Beds line a hallway on November 14, 2022, at UNM Hospital before being set up in the new 12-bed unit to treat young patients affected by the RSV surge, which is having an impact on hospitals. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

UNMH launched an emergency operations center to better coordinate the response to the increase in sick children. The hospital officials said they are working with each other to spread out the cases across different hospitals.

As during previous COVID surges, local hospitals have taken steps to create more space to treat patients. The difference between the last two winters and now is that the current patients are young, while during COVID many were older.

On Monday, in a new 12-bed unit created to treat young patients, children’s screams and cries echoed through the hallways as nurses ran by with hot towels to try to calm the young patients.

Many of the patients during the latest surge are less than a year old. But local 5-year-olds have needed additional oxygen to battle respiratory viruses.

Dr. Vesta Sandoval, the medical director at Lovelace, urged parents to teach their children to wash their hands, consider wearing a mask in public spaces and stay up-to-date on vaccinations. The physicians also advised parents not to go to work when they are sick and to keep sick children home from school or day care.

Symptoms of the viruses include cough, congestion, fever, diarrhea and vomiting.

The doctors said that parents should take their children to primary care doctors or the urgent care if their children have a fever for three days and appear to be getting dehydrated. If the children are having difficultly breathing and are clearly dehydrated they should go to an emergency room.

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