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‘Unprecedented surge’ of RSV patients causes surgery delays at Primary Children’s Hospital

RSV, flu hasn’t yet peaked, so hospital expecting some tough weeks ahead, doctor says

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Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City is pictured on March 31, 2020.

Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, March 31, 2020.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Primary Children's Hospital announced Monday that about 50 elective, prescheduled surgeries that require overnight stays for patients will be delayed so the hospital can treat the massive influx of children who are sick with RSV and other respiratory illnesses.

The hospital said in a statement that in order to "provide excellent care, and to ensure that staffing and resources are best able to meet patient needs during this busy time, the hospital is delaying as many of this week's prescheduled, nonemergency procedures and surgeries that would require an inpatient stay as possible."

Those 50 surgeries account for about 10% of all surgeries scheduled this week at the Primary Children's.

"We don't take this action lightly," Dr. Andrew Pavia, a pediatric infectious diseases physician for the hospital, said during a press conference Monday afternoon. Even though the hospital has had many preventative measures put in place to deal with the expected surge of the cold season, this year has seen an "unprecedented surge" in RSV accompanied by large amounts of influenza and COVID-19 cases, he said.

The hospital is currently operating at full capacity for a surge, meaning they have converted some clinical spaces into inpatient rooms and put two patients in rooms that typically only hold one. In spite of those efforts, Pavia said the hospital is pushed to the limit and every day they are doing their best to help children get well enough so they can send them home and make room to admit other sick children.

"Our patient volumes are exceeding typical winter surge levels, and the hospital has been at or near capacity for several consecutive weeks," said Dustin Lipson, administrator of Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital. "This is combined with high volumes of patients coming to the emergency department for other various illnesses and injuries."

The emergency room has set records for the number of children being seen in a single day for two of the last four days, Pavia said, causing it to be "extraordinarily busy." The ER team has been stepping up to meet the demand of patients, but there is limited space available for patients, which led to the decision in delaying those elective, prescheduled surgeries, Pavia said.

"We have taken this action really as the way to provide the best and safest care for the kids who need it," Pavia said. "Unfortunately, it does cause inconvenience for some families who are having scheduled surgeries canceled."

Pavia said the best thing to help the hospital right now, is to stay out of the emergency room and keep children healthy and away from sick people. Mild symptoms in adults can easily be passed onto children who will then exhibit more severe symptoms potentially requiring hospital visits, he said.

"If not for yourself, then do it for our community," Pavia said about getting the flu and COVID-19 vaccines. Getting the flu shot, COVID-19 vaccines, wearing a mask when you show symptoms and more can prevent illness.

Because RSV and influenza haven't reached their peak yet, Pavia said the hospital is expecting some tough weeks ahead. Primary Children's will be re-evaluating daily whether more elective surgeries will need to be delayed.

Elective surgeries that don't require overnight stays are still being held normally, but could also be delayed if things get worse, Pavia said.

"I know how difficult this is going to be for some of our families. We wouldn't do it if we had any other choice," Pavia said. "We are not going to delay any surgery that is going to endanger any child. But we know it will cause some inconvenience and maybe some expense."