ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A surge in pediatric flu, RSV, COVID and other health issues has the University of New Mexico Hospital activating its Emergency Operations Center in relation to its pediatric capacity. With a licensed capacity of 89 beds at the UNM Children’s Hospital, UNMH officials say their pediatric facilities charted roughly 119% capacity this morning.
“Generally this time of year we see an increase in flu at the start of our RSV season,” said Dr. Anna Duran, a pediatrician with UNM Children’s Hospital. “Not only are we seeing flu and RSV, but we’re also seeing COVID, parainfluenza, influenza, vomiting and diarhea due to enterovirus.”
UNM Hospital says the surge in pediatric related illnesses has been compounded with staffing issues, causing capacity challenges and “longer-than-normal wait times” in the pediatric emergency department. According to UNMH, other health systems across the state are experiencing similar issues.
At a news conference Monday, UNMH officials described the opening of the “Emergency Operations Center” as a behind-the-scenes mechanism to better coordinate the growing needs in the hospital. The hospital says patients won’t necessarily see a difference in the outright operations.
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“What patients will notice or parents coming in with children will notice, and I’m sure this is the same in all of our systems, is because the system is seeing more patients, the wait times are going to increase,” said Maribeth Thornton, UNMH’s Hospital Associate Chief Nursing Officer. “The places where children are cared for may not look like your typical hospital room that you’ve been in in the past.”
Medical leaders described the 2022 year-end surge Monday as affected by COVID-related distancing from the prior years. In New Mexico, remote learning began in March 2021 and continued for most schools through February 2021, when the state implemented guidelines for a return to in-person learning.
“I think 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, Presbyterian Health Services Medical Director of Children’s Care. “We typical have a large surge of RSV every season that occurs typically in the January to March to April timeframe.”
Pederson says Presbyterian is continuing to see more children who typically would have bee exposed to viruses in the past that haven’t been until now. He attributed the surge in cases to what he called an “immunity gap,” or lack of immunity to typical seasonal viruses in the community.
The hospitals are urging parents to consider when they should bring their child in for medical care, by considering what symptoms they are showing. Dr. Duran said many symptoms can be managed at home, including fever, fussiness or pain that can be managed with Tylenol, if less than six months in age. Kids older than six months in age can typically have symptoms managed with Ibuprofin, Dr. Duran said.
For cough and congestion, Duran said UNMH pediatricians do not recommend the use of cold formulas for children younger than four years of age. For congestion, Dr. Duran says the use of bulb suction or a NoseFrida nasal aspirator can be beneficial.
Dr. Duran advised parents to look out for some specific symptoms before considering professional medical care for their children. Those symptoms include a fever for more than three days or the start of dehydration. Dehydration can appear when kids are not able to keep fluids down, no tears when they cry, or children who show dry mouth or lips. Trouble breathing is another serious symptom.
“We do want encourage you to seek emergent or emergency care should you see signs of respiratory distress, meaning your child is working harder to breath,” Duran said. “Or, they’re breathing fast.”