At the same time adult COVID-19 patients are flooding Inland Northwest hospitals at record rates, children are also getting hospitalized with the virus more than at any other point during the pandemic.
Providence Sacred Heart Children's Hospital has had an average of 10 pediatric COVID patients each day over the last month.
Not only is that an unusually high number of children to be hospitalized at the same time with the same illness, it may delay other pediatric surgeries and procedures.
"We have had to pause some pediatric surgeries at our hospital that are not emergent. This is directly influenced by the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 and ongoing staffing issues hospital-wide," says Ariana Lake, a Providence spokeswoman, via email. "We are treating more patients under 18 for COVID-19 than ever before during this pandemic, some have required intensive care."
But before their skilled team of physicians and surgeons performs a procedure, they also have to ensure there is space at Sacred Heart, which has a pediatric intensive care unit, should something go wrong during a surgery, explains Derrek Hidalgo, director of patient care and chief nurse executive for Shriners.
"The biggest impact that we have is any time you have a patient that needs surgery there’s always the potential that something wrong could happen," Hidalgo says. "It could be a reaction to anesthesia, or something where they have co-morbidities with in their health care history we weren't aware of."
If the pediatric ICU at Sacred Heart is overwhelmed or understaffed, Shriners has to delay surgeries that may be considered elective, but in many cases are needed to significantly improve a child's quality of life.
Testing positive for COVID may also cause a child's Shriners surgery to be delayed, Hidalgo says. If possible, Shriners can ask to do that surgery at Sacred Heart, but if it's not an emergent need, the patient may be asked to isolate for 14 days and retest to see if they can get the surgery scheduled.
Should Washington get to the point Idaho has already reached and find the need to declare crisis standards of care, Shriners could serve as an overflow space to help take on non-COVID pediatric patients and help triage the needs of its neighboring hospitals, Hidalgo says.
They could also help with staffing shortages at the other facilities.
Shriners staff were notified Sept. 14 that if they wanted to assist at other facilities Shriners' human resources would work to streamline the process to get them approved to work at those other facilities as needed, Hidalgo says.
"We have a population of children that aren’t old enough to get the vaccines that are currently out there," Hidalgo says. "Social distancing, masking and getting a vaccination works. I would encourage everyone to definitely mask, socially distance and be aware of their fellow neighbors and the community and let’s keep each other safe."
At Kootenai Health hospital in Coeur d'Alene, pediatric physicians offered a similar, urgent request to the community on Wednesday, Sept. 22, asking everyone to mask up and get vaccinated if they are eligible. They especially asked parents to mask their children who are going to school in person right now.
While Kootenai is preparing to care for up to 15 pediatric COVID patients at a time, that's not a point they ever hope to get to.
"Hopefully it doesn't come to that worst-case scenario," said Dr. Vanessa Carroll, medical director of pediatrics at Kootenai Health, during the press conference Wednesday afternoon. "We recognize that children greatly benefit from in-person learning for so many reasons, but it needs to be done safely."
Other pediatricians shared that they've seen a sharp uptick in COVID patients who are as young as just a few weeks old in recent weeks. They compared getting vaccinated to using seat belts for yourself and your kids: you can think of it as an extra layer of protection when needed.
While thankfully, most cases in kids aren't as severe, Carroll says some cases have required hospitalization.
"We recommend universal masking in schools, environmental cleaning, maintaining a physical distance of at least three feet," Carroll says, "and if you're sick please stay home and get tested."
For more on how local health care workers are being impacted by the surge in hospitalizations, visit inlander.com Thursday morning, or look for this week's print issue on newsstands now.