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CHEO seeing high volumes in Emergency – seeks community’s help to reduce wait times

The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) is seeing unusually high volumes of visits to its Emergency Department, and encourages families whose children have less urgent symptoms to visit their child’s doctor or a community clinic.

“We know how hard it is for parents to decide what to do when their child is ill,” says Dr. Gina Neto, Chief of Emergency Medicine at CHEO. “For most minor complaints, parents should first turn to their primary doctor’s office or a walk-in clinic, so that Emergency doctors can focus on the children and youth who have more urgent problems and need our specialized care.”

February and March are typically the busiest months in CHEO’s Emergency Department because of the high rates of respiratory infections and viral illnesses. CHEO’s doctors say that most fever and cough in healthy, immunized children is from a virus and can be managed at home, or with an assessment in an office or clinic.

In the last few weeks, CHEO's Emergency department has seen record high numbers of patients every day. The number of visits is 20% higher than what is expected for this busy time of year. And 42% of these visits to the Emergency department have been assessed as “low acuity” – not needing emergency treatment. Because urgent cases are seen first, families with a less urgent problem can expect to have long wait times in a crowded Emergency department.

For parents that decide that they need to come to the CHEO Emergency Department, there are visitor restrictions. For the safety of our patients and to help prevent the spread of infections, siblings are not allowed and only two caregivers should accompany the child. If possible, only one caregiver should come with the ill or injured child to help alleviate congestion in the department.

Many common conditions can be managed safely at home or in a family doctor’s office, such as:

  • Fever in healthy and vaccinated children who are generally well and playful when the fever is brought down with ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • Breathing problems due to nasal congestion and cough, common cold symptoms, or mild asthma symptoms that respond to puffers.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea that occurs less than 3-4 times per day, or ongoing diarrhea after stomach flu, which can last up to two weeks.

Although some procedures are usually only available in a hospital, such as stitches, casts or trauma treatment, many other tests and procedures are available in doctors’ offices, clinics and medical labs in the community. Many families assume their primary care provider won’t be available for an acute problem, but many practices offer same-day appointments, after-hours clinics or telephone advice for their patients.

CHEO, the Canadian Pediatric Society and Ottawa Public Health all have websites with health information that can help parents to recognize when a problem warrants a trip to the Emergency department:

There are also resources that can help parents find a walk-in clinic or family doctor:

About CHEO

The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) is Canada’s capital pediatric hospital and helps over 500,000 children and youth each year. CHEO has more than 2,500 doctors, nurses and staff dedicated to providing the best possible care for the children and youth of Eastern Ontario, Western Quebec, Nunavut and parts of Northern Ontario.

CHEO works closely with the University of Ottawa as a teaching hospital and fosters groundbreaking research through the CHEO Research Institute. CHEO’s vision is to change young lives in our community, while our innovation changes young lives around the world.


For more information, please contact:

Eva Schacherl
Communications Manager and Strategist
Cell: 613-769-5553

CHEO Social Media:
Twitter: @CHEOhospital

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