Cook Children’s Is Sounding The Alarm, Overwhelmed By Patient Load

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Pediatric nurse in PPE
Photo courtesy Cook Children's

Cook Children’s Physicians Beg Community To Help Prevent COVID Spread

This afternoon Cook’s Children held a virtual news conference to detail the State of the System related to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on children. In the past several weeks, Cook Children’s has experienced an influx of patients for COVID-19 testing as well as hospitalization. With the return of school Cook’s Children urgent care centers and Emergency Room are seeing a record number of patients overwhelming the staff.

Kara Starnes, D.O., medical director of Urgent Care Services, said Cook Children’s urgent care saw over 1400 patients on Monday. That’s over twice the number on a very busy day in winter. The urgent care centers are understaffed as they are struggling with loss of staff members due to illness. They’re losing a lot of staff to burn out, as many have worked overtime. With the shortage they are struggling to manage patients. The shortages are across the board with nurses, physicians, assistants, etc. Note: Cook Children’s vaccine requirement date is September 27, so as of now the shortage is not being affected by the vaccine mandate.

She noted, clinic hours have been reduced from 10pm to 9pm, just so they can get their staff some rest. Many staff members are there hours after the clinic has closed and then return the following day to do it all over again.

Dr. Starnes is urging parents if your child has been exposed to COVID-19 not to rush them in to be seen without symptoms or with minor symptoms. Urgent care centers are getting bogged down with a large volume seeking a rapid COVID-19 test in clinics or seen for mild symptoms. With so many patients needing to be seen, seriously ill kids are waiting for hours or not getting the immediate care they may need.

She recommends parents look into an at home testing kit that can be purchased at a pharmacy, or find a COVID-19 testing site.

Dr. Starnes reminds parents to expect at least a 2-3 hour wait, sometimes longer. They really want to be able to see the patients that really need them. She added, “we need some compassion from the community. We’re hitting a crisis mode when the children’s hospital is struggling to treat all the patients.”

‘Breaking Records We Don’t Want to Break’

Corwin Warmink, M.D., medical director of Emergency Services explained, “We are breaking records we don’t want to break. This is the worst we’ve ever been as far as the level of illness coming through our ER. We saw 601 children on Monday that’s an all time record. At this level of patients, we are physically unable to care for kids adequately.”

One of the big issues, patients aren’t coming in that aren’t severe and they are impacting the care the ER staff can provide to the very sick patients. About half of the patients they are seeing are coming in for COVID related concerns.

“We’re imploring you to only use us for when your child is very ill, not just for a COVID test. Delta is a game changer, Delta loves kids. If this can wait until tomorrow, the ER isn’t the place for you. Please think about whether the ER is the best place to come,” said Dr. Warmink.

Dr. Warmink actually teared up and said while his training has taught him not to freak out, he’s freaking out over what they are seeing.

“If you want your child to get sick, send them to school without a mask. It’s not a matter of if they’ll get COVID, it’s when they’ll get COVID. The adults in the room need to step up and do what’s right, mandates or not. If you’re unvaccinated right now, I don’t see you not getting COVID and since every child under 12 isn’t eligible, the child can give it to their grandparent. While a lot of people think if my kid gets it, they might not get that sick, that might be true but why risk it. You aren’t going to drive your kid around without them wearing a seat belt, have them wear a mask.”

nurses looking at xrays
Photo courtesy Cook Children’s

Please Don’t Gather Indoors In Large Crowds This Holiday Weekend

The doctors are imploring the community not to gather indoors in large crowds this Labor Day weekend.

Dr. Mary Suzanne Whitworth added, “We don’t want parents to panic if their child has been exposed to the virus. We want you to understand preventive measures like wearing a mask and social distancing matter.” Since the beginning of the pandemic Cook Children’s has had over 1100 children hospitalized for COVID-19. Out of those, 241 of them have been admitted to the ICU, most of those on some form of life support. Seven of those children have died, two of them last week a 4 year old and 15 year old. The Delta variant of COID is hitting kids harder than the ancestral strain did.”

“For us, the January surge was nothing compared to what we are dealing with now. Two days ago we opened a third COVID unit to make room for more inpatients. This unit has nine beds and within 24 hours the unit was full. We have children of all ages from birth to teenagers, in addition to COVID pneumonia and COVID disease about 144 of these children were treated for inflammatory syndrome (MISC). Now is the time for the local community to step up and help!”

“Every holiday that we have had for the last year and a half has been associated with a surge in the following week or two. We can’t have a surge following Labor Day. Our hospitals can only handle so many patients. There are only so many ICU beds available. There are only so many hospital beds available and we can’t magically create more at the drop of a hat.”

She continued, “Wear a mask whenever you are indoors. Wear a mask in your school whether you are vaccinated or not. We’re seeing pictures of thousands of kids at a pep rally, all together in a room without masks, this is the equivalent of a super spreader event occurring continuously. It’s dangerous.”

We Have The Tools To Prevent This, Please Use Them

Dr. Whitworth said to remember, while most children may only have a mild case, they have the potential to spread it to others that are more vulnerable. “Much of what we are seeing is preventable. The spread of the virus is unstoppable unless you are vaccinated, you’re wearing a mask, you’re staying six feet apart and you’re frequently washing your hands.”

Through Dr. Abbott’s promise to send more staff, Cook Children’s Requested 18 nurses and so far have only received four because the majority of nurses weren’t trained for pediatric care.

Dr. Whitworth concluded by saying, “The goal for healthcare is to take care of people and to prevent deaths that are preventable.” It is imperative to get COVID under control for ALL medical conditions, so that we can prevent deaths that are preventable.

You can watch today’s press conference below

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Kristin Barclay graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of South Carolina with a major in Journalism and Advertising. Prior to joining Daily News she was a popular on-air personality on the Houston radio program In Wheel Time. You can find an account of her travel adventures and more on In Deep H2O. She is widely recognized as one of the top digital and media influencers in the country being most recently recognized as one of the Top Three social media influencers in Houston. She now handles all digital media aspects at Focus Daily News.

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