OTTAWA – Given the high volumes of patients coming to its emergency department with symptoms of influenza, The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) is enacting the next steps in its pandemic plan — expanding its emergency department, reducing select clinic activity, redeploying some staff from other areas of the hospital, and implementing temporary restrictions on visitors. In addition, CHEO has made arrangements with other hospitals in the community to assess emergency patients 16 years and older.
In the last week, CHEO saw an 49% increase in the number of patients coming to its emergency room compared to normal volumes for this time of year. Yesterday there was actually double the normal number. Of these, two-thirds are showing symptoms of influenza-like illness and require isolation from other emergency room patients. As a result, wait times have increased and there has sometimes been a shortage of seating in the emergency department.
Expands Emergency, Redeploys Staff
In order to properly manage the large influx of patients, CHEO is physically expanding its emergency department into an adjacent clinic to create more isolation space for patients with flu symptoms.
In addition, several CHEO clinics — beginning with Gastroenterology, Respirology and Endocrinology — will move to providing only “essential services” for the next four weeks. CHEO will monitor patient volumes and staffing challenges to determine if this will need to be extended to any other clinics in the future.
“This means that the appointments in these clinics which can be postponed, will be postponed. But we’ll absolutely move forward with the appointments that are of an urgent nature,” said Dr. Lindy Samson, head of CHEO’s infectious diseases and pandemic planning. “This is unfortunate for those families who have been waiting for appointments in those clinics, but it is a necessary step to ensure that we can meet the H1N1 challenge — handling the unusually large volumes of patients in emergency and providing the necessary level of care.”
By decreasing activity in these three clinics, CHEO will be able to redeploy doctors and nurses to the Emergency Department, where staff had already been working many extra shifts this month to accommodate the increased patient traffic. In addition, other staff can be redeployed to other areas of the hospital to further support CHEO’s pandemic response.
Should the traffic in emergency decrease in the next few weeks, CHEO will return to its normal patient activity in the clinics. Otherwise, CHEO plans to operate these clinics at only “essential services” for the next four weeks and then reassess its next steps.
Patients 16 and Older
The regional hospital planning committee has been working together to help solve the H1N1 challenge for the children and youth of our community.
“Parents in the community with previously-healthy children 16 and older should know they have another option,” said Thomas Hayes, director of Occupational Health at The Ottawa Hospital and Chair of HEPCO. “Instead of going to CHEO, we recommend that teens in this age group visit one of the other area hospitals during this busy period. Those with chronic underlying medical conditions should continue to go to CHEO. This will help CHEO deal with the younger and sicker patients, and help reduce wait times overall.”
The regional hospital group will continue to work together to adapt to the changing demands of the community.
New Temporary Visitors Restrictions Implemented
In addition, CHEO is seeking the community’s cooperation in reducing patient exposure to H1N1 flu. Visitors to all CHEO units are now restricted to two parents or guardians in an effort to minimize potential exposure of viruses to the hospital’s most vulnerable inpatients. Siblings, relatives and friends of patients who are in hospital are being asked to refrain from visiting until further notice.
These precautionary measures are effective immediately.
CHEO is reminding families of the importance of keeping healthy siblings at home or in alternate care when visiting the emergency department. Only one parent should accompany a child — and siblings, relative and friends of patients in emergency will not be allowed to join them. This will prevent the spread of illness to healthy children and adults and clear up much needed space in the waiting rooms.
“We thank the community for their understanding and support during this flu season as we all work together to keep our children safe and healthy,” said Dr. Samson.
In addition, the public should be aware that, in general, CHEO will no longer be performing H1N1 testing unless a patient is admitted to hospital.