Why you may see more than 5-hour wait times at children’s emergency rooms

Doctors are handling a historic surge in child patients this month at emergency rooms nationwide, and a D.C. mother described arriving at Children’s National Hospital to find her son was 83rd in line for care.

Summertime injuries, more children getting viruses usually contracted in the winter, and higher- than-average cases of mental health emergencies in teens have caused incredible demand, said Dr. Jay Pershad, who works in the emergency room at Children’s National Hospital as pediatric emergency specialist.

“So we’ve got this combination of things leading to a historic July. In terms of numbers, like typically in July, our average daily census at main campus might be 150-160 patients a day. Now, we’re close to an upward of 250 on some days,” Pershad said.

Patricia Stamper brought her son into the emergency room for an ear infection and tweeted about what she encountered inside.

Parents are bringing their kids in with respiratory illnesses oftentimes out of fear that it could be COVID-19.

Pershad explained why children could be experiencing flu-like symptoms now rather than when the flu usually takes hold.

“In the last year, including the winter, when we typically see these infections, we were socially distanced. We were quarantined; we were not going outdoors much. And now suddenly, we are relaxing our usual protocols. As a consequence, that immunity-building that typically happens seasonally has not occurred. So now we’re exposed to this surge in viruses,” he said.

Hourslong wait times in the emergency room is commonplace at children’s hospitals across the country, he said.

“In my conversations with directors across the country, this idea of longer wait times and a surge in July, we’re seeing this at several children’s hospitals across the country,” Pershad said. “But I will say one thing, despite that, we’re open, we’re safe, we’re ready to take care of families who want to come through our doors. Might take a little bit longer.”

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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