Children’s National Medical Center, in D.C., is in the midst of a staffing shortage as COVID-19 continues to affect more unvaccinated children and winter viruses, such as RSV, arrive early this year. One employee told WTOP it’s contributing to the longest emergency room wait times in recent memory.
An emergency room employee at Children’s National, who spoke anonymously to WTOP, fearing repercussions, expressed concern for patients who are waiting for care and employees who are working shifts without adequate staffing in a pandemic. The worker said emergency room wait times at Children’s “routinely approach 10 hours,” saying it happens two to three times a week.
“We are at six hours pretty much every day now in the busy evening times,” the employee said.
“Parents should understand that there is no emergency department wait time for treating critically ill children,” said hospital spokesman Josh Wilson.
He said that, as with children’s hospitals around the country, there has been a significant increase in pediatric emergency visits and hospitalization due to an unusually early viral respiratory season and an increase in pediatric COVID-19 patients.
“These volumes may mean longer wait times in our emergency room for children whose illness or injury is not life-threatening. The amount of time varies constantly,” Wilson said.
But the employee said the wait times are exacerbated by a lack of workers: “I can tell you that the emergency department is short-staffed for nurses pretty much every shift, sometimes as many as five. On multiple occasions, this has meant being unable to open an entire section of the department at a time when volumes are high.”
Wilson said the hospital is recruiting aggressively, but is facing competition amid a nationwide shortage of health care workers. In fact, most emergency rooms across the D.C. area are experiencing staffing problems, according to the District of Columbia Nurses Association.
“DCNA is working with Children’s National Hospital, and other hospitals in the District where we have membership, to address the nursing shortage and ensure patient safety,” nurse LaKisha R. Little-Smalls, a DCNA union representative who works at Children’s National, told WTOP.
The worker who spoke on the condition of anonymity said most beds in the hospital emergency department are full, with three reserved for very sick patients if they arrive. Currently, the employee said, 18 emergency beds are being used by patients whose emergency care is complete but have nowhere else to move in the hospital, because all the beds are full due to the surge in childhood viruses.
Hospital spokeswoman Diana Troese told WTOP the hospital has “the staff necessary to safely care for patients,” but that Children’s National is working in the middle of “a nationwide health care worker shortage,” citing The Association of American Medical Colleges, The American Hospital Association and The American Nursing Association, who have called this situation a crisis. The American Hospital Association has also spotlighted supply shortages.
Last week, the hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. David Wessel, said the hospital was nearing capacity, and the surge it’s experiencing will likely continue for a few weeks.
The hospital has “implemented measures to accommodate higher volumes of patients,” Troese said.