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Sick kids running out of room at Omaha-area hospitals as start of school, COVID loom

RSV being cited as a reason for full or nearly full pediatric beds
Posted at 2:02 PM, Aug 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-16 11:28:42-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Hospitalized children often need kid-specific care, from the hospital beds and equipment they require to the specialized training of their doctors and nurses.

SEE ALSO: Douglas County Health Department seeing 'atypical' spike of Respiratory Syncytial Virus cases; leading to limited bed space for pediatric COVID patients

In the Omaha area, three hospital systems offer kid-specific bed space – Children’s Hospital, Nebraska Medicine and Boys Town. Lately, however, those beds are filling up.

The Douglas County Health Department and local hospital systems that serve children told 3 News Now Investigator Aaron Sanderford that their pediatric beds are at or near capacity. Some in the medical community told us the lack of beds could put sick kids at risk.

In Nebraska, COVID-19 is driving just a small part of those pediatric hospitalizations, with two confirmed cases involving children who are hospitalized.

But doctors worry that could soon change, given what’s happening elsewhere with the delta variant, which they say is far more contagious.

“One of the things that we’ve seen is an increase over the last month of six weeks in what is normally called respiratory viruses, the winter respiratory viruses,” said Dr. Chris Maloney of Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. “As far as the COVID admissions, though, we’ve consistently had less than five. I think today it’s two.”

However, several of the doctors say they are watching what’s happening in Southern states, including Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Texas, where children’s hospitals report seeing many more pediatric coronavirus cases than before.

Dr. John Trapp of Lincoln’s Bryan Health says his system is “actively preparing for a surge of potential increased pediatric patients,” in case Children’s gets filled with RSV and COVID.

He was one of several local hospital leaders who told 3 News Now Investigators that they are planning for what to do with kids if the start of school gets more children seriously ill.

“We need to be prepared to help assist other communities with pediatric care,” Trapp said. “I think we’re anticipating as seen in the Southern states that we’re going to see increased numbers of pediatric patients hospitalized.”

There’s also more bed space on the way locally, with up to 80 additional beds coming online later this month at Children’s, officials said, with the new Hubbard Center for Children.

But Maloney says filling those beds will require additional staffing they don’t yet have, and that hiring has become harder as the pandemic stretches deeper into a second year.

Children’s faced questions this week about available beds after local medical staff complained and local 911 scanner traffic confirmed that potential pediatric patients were being sent elsewhere for hospital beds.

Nicholle Bruhn, a local pediatric nurse practitioner, says she had trouble getting a baby with breathing troubles admitted to the hospital this week.

“What normally is a very simple phone call to one of our local hospitals to get the baby admitted took me about two and a half hours,” she said. “And during that time it was multiple phone calls, multiple going back in to explain to the mother that nobody in Omaha has beds.”

She says beds already being at or near capacity leaves little room for any other illnesses, including COVID-19. She said she's hearing about pediatric patient transfers to other states, which most of the hospitals declined to discuss. She urged vaccines, masks and distancing.

Children's, through a spokeswoman, confirmed on Friday that they had diverted six potential patients this month to other local hospitals, a sign that they were full at the time. Hospital officials said addressing local need is part of why they're expanding the hospital.

"In the rare instances when we do not have a bed or the staff to admit a patient, we work closely with our partners — locally and regionally — to ensure the child gets the needed care as close to home as possible," said Sarah Weller, the Children's spokeswoman.

A spokeswoman for Nebraska Medicine confirmed to 3 News Now that they’ve seen their 15 regular, non-intensive-care pediatric hospital beds full as recently as today.

Dr. Harris Frankel of Nebraska Medicine says his entire system, like the others, has remained “quite full or at or near capacity for many, many months now.”

“We are having to retool our operational plans in response to the most recent surge related to the delta variant,” Frankel said. “We are dusting off some of the operational plans and policies that we had in effect earlier this year, that had been developed earlier in the pandemic to accommodate the surge we are seeing.”

A Boys Town spokeswoman, Kara Neuverth, said, “We have pediatric hospital beds available. This is a busy time, but our rise in patients is not due to COVID-19. There are other ailments that are putting children in the hospital right now. It’s typical for hospitals to vary on occupancy depending on the day, and generally pediatric stays are short-term.”

Still, local hospital system leaders say they need help from parents and the public to keep kids safer as they start another school year.

Local hospital leaders told Sanderford they have the staffing flexibility and room to surge their capacity to meet higher demand for pediatric beds. They hope they won’t have to use it.

“The pandemic is not over, and so we need to be very cognizant that it’s around us,” Maloney said. “It is killing our neighbors, and so we do need to be aware of that fact. And so we really recommend masks, distancing, good hand hygiene, and so that’s good for our community.”

SEE MORE: CHI doctors discuss CDC guidance on COVID vaccinations and pregnancy

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As COVID cases continue to trend high in Douglas County, the health department says two pediatric patients are currently hospitalized and “pediatric beds are at capacity.”

The Douglas County Health Department (DCHD) said the lack of pediatric beds are “mostly due to the RSV outbreak.”

One-hundred-sixty-three cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the county, bringing the community’s total to 75,042 since the pandemic began in March of 2020.

No deaths related to the virus were reported so that total remains at 741.

As the weekend approaches, the department wants to remind people that going to public events could expose them to the virus and is urging people to get vaccinated.

The department is holding vaccination clinics Friday and Saturday at the following locations

  • Friday
    • At the Douglas County Health Department’s Office at 1111 South 41st Street from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
  • Saturday
    • Old Market Farmer’s Market, 519 S. 11th St., 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
    • Black Men United Food Pantry, 4200 N. 30th St., 8 a.m.-noon.
    • Morning Star Baptist Church, 2019 Burdette St., noon-2 p.m.

According to the Douglas County's most recent local hospital report received yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon:

  • Medical and surgical beds were at 81% occupancy with 279 beds available and adult ICU beds were occupied at an 85% rate with 51 beds available.
  • There were 118 individuals hospitalized who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, with 34 of them receiving adult ICU level care.
  • There were three additional COVID-19 persons of interest (generally waiting for test results).
  • Fourteen individuals who were confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19 were on ventilators.

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