Amid the surge of respiratory illnesses across Ontario early in the ‘cold and flu season,’ Kingston is acting as a place of refuge for pediatric patients who are in greatest need of medical care.
Earlier this month, Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) announced that the local hospitals it oversees here in Kingston (Hotel Dieu Hospital and Kingston General Hospital) would be accepting pediatric patient transfers from across the province. Just over two weeks later, Kingston hospitals had already accepted 25 such patients as of Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, according to KHSC. These pediatric patients are all presenting with respiratory issues, said Jason Hann, executive vice-president of patient care for KHSC. In terms of COVID-19, Hann relayed that the local hospitals have not been seeing any increased activity, while the activity of other respiratory illnesses has ballooned over the past month. However, while the number of pediatric patients being diagnosed with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has begun to dwindle, the number of patients presenting with influenza or flu-like illness has increased, he said.
“We’re seeing about a 30 per cent increase in our children’s outpatient clinic volumes,” Hann detailed, “and 85 per cent of that is respiratory related type illnesses.”
“So we’re dealing with a large volume of local demand for pediatric care within Kingston and the area,” he continued, explaining that this is consistent with large volumes of pediatric patients in need of medical care due to respiratory illnesses across the province – hence KHSC’s stepping up to accept the transfer of patients whose local hospitals are unable or ill-equipped to handle the influx.
Hann stated that this surge is generally in younger children requiring hospital admission, “whether it’s to a ward bed or our pediatric critical care unit,” from both the local area and around the province, and those children are “generally… two years of age or less.”
At the same time, hospitals here in Kingston — like those across the province and country — are already reported to be under massive strain due to staffing shortages, a lack of open beds, and increased wait times. Given that circumstance, does accepting patient transfers from outside the KHSC catchment region add to that strain?
“It certainly has put a strain on our resources in the hospital,” said Hann. However, “We have an excellent team of staff, nurses, allied health professionals, and physicians, so they’re doing the right things to make sure that those most ill get the care that they need.”
“We are stretched,” he admitted, “but we’ve done some things to create more pediatric capacity.”
The pediatric unit and the pediatric critical care unit at Kingston General Hospital (KGH) — the hospital at which all of the pediatric patient transfers are being accepted — are on the tenth floor, Hann explained. Usually, that floor is home to a medicine unit and an inpatient medicine unit, which are adjacent to the pediatric units. Currently, those other two units have been converted to expand the pediatric units and allow the hospital to take in more pediatric patients. The patients that had been in the medicine units were distributed to different areas across the hospital, said Hann, “to make more capacity for the pediatric populations, and enable [us] to accept or admit pediatric patients to the hospital.”
Further, KHSC has opened a pediatric cough, cold, and flu clinic at its Hotel Dieu site to help alleviate wait times at the Children’s Outpatient Clinic (COPC).
“At the local level and at the provincial level, we want to be good system partners and provide care for that pediatric population,” said Hann.
So what can people here in the Kingston area do to help KHSC be the “good system partner” it has proven to be throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — when hundreds of patients from outside the region were accepted by transfer to KGH — and now during this surge of respiratory illnesses in children?
First, Hann said, is to continue to maintain all the good practices health care providers and Public Health have been reiterating over the past three years: practice good hand hygiene, get the flu shot and be up-to-date on all applicable COVID-19 vaccinations, stay home if you or someone in your family is feeling ill, and wear a face covering in indoor settings and enclosed spaces.
“Our staff are working very hard, and people in our community will get the care that they need. But some of the wait times may be a little bit longer than we wish [for those who are] not as ill as others,” said Hann.
“So just be patient with us, and we’ll do our best to care for you.”
KHSC reminds the community to ‘know where to go’ when seeking medical attention, and the KHSC Pediatrics program offers a guide for parents of children experiencing respiratory illnesses.