Cases of RSV are on the rise in Massachusetts and across the country, and Boston Children's Hospital is citing the illness as one reason it's cutting back on its elective surgeries.
It's not just Boston Children's Hospital that's dealing with the strain, according to doctors from around the state and the Massachusetts Hospital Association. Some hospitals are not able to transfer or receive transferred patients because their emergency room and intensive care units are so full.
Also a factor in Boston Children's Hospital's move to cut back on elective procedures is "increased levels of seasonal illness" and an "ongoing behavioral health crisis," according to a statement from the prestigious institution.
"Currently, we are not transferring patients to other hospitals, and in non-emergent cases, we encourage families to contact their primary care providers to determine the best treatment option. We continue to monitor the situation and adjust our process as needed," the statement said.
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The Massachusetts Hospital Association noted that it is "working closely with state and local leaders to address the growing volume of patient demand, including RSV, as our caregivers navigate a tremendously challenging time," and said in the statement that Massachusetts hospitals are coordinating on bed availability and more.
"This partnership will be especially important as we head into another difficult winter and healthcare organizations try to overcome a historic series of pressures," the Massachusetts Hospital Association said.
RSV, which stands for respiratory syncytial virus, is an infection that disrupts the airways and usually feels like the common cold. It's common in children, but cases have been more severe this year, and have sent more children than usual to the hospital.
"Typically, pre-pandemic, it was kids under the age of one year that would become particularly ill with RSV, but now we're seeing young toddlers and older kids with underlying conditions like asthma in the hospital and in our emergency rooms, quite ill," said Dr. Charlotte Boney, of Baystate Children's Hospital in Springfield, which postponed an elective surgery this week.
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With hospital systems strained, when should parents think about taking their kids to the emergency room? Dr. Todd Ellerin of South Shore Health urged families to reach out to their pediatrician or urgent care if their child is so sick they can't tolerate food and drink, but to reserve emergency rooms for patients who need to be hospitalized.
"If they look like they are having trouble breathing and they are not taking oral meds or they are not being able to hydrate, that's a time where you really have to go to the emergency department," he said.
Asked about the rise in RSV cases, Dr. Shira Doron, an epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, said in an email it is concerning that "the only reliable trigger we have to pull when there are hospital capacity constraints is to cancel elective surgery."
She said that deferring elective procedures — which are important, even if they don't require immediate care — leads to the progression of the underlying issues.
"We need to find a better way to stretch capacity. In the first year of the pandemic the issue was largely space. Now the issue is largely staffing. We need to make healthcare an industry people want to work in," Doron said.