boston — For every patient discharged from the pediatric intensive care unit at Mass General for Children in Boston, three more are waiting for that bed. A rise in cases of respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV, is causing hospitals across the country to struggle to treat patients.
“I’ve never seen capacity issues in my 26 years there. There are no PICU beds in the Northeast,” said Kimberly Whalen, nursing director of the 14-bed unit.
When Gabriella Boulting saw her 1-month-old baby gasping for air, she called a pediatrician who sent him to a local hospital. The child, Alma, was then transferred to Mass General.
Boulting said, “She went from breastfeeding to intubation in just one day. And I was amazed at how fast the change happened.” “It was definitely a concern whether or not we would be able to find a bed. My husband and I started calling everyone we knew who we could think of who had any connection to hospitals ”
Alma found a bed, but had to wait more than six hours for it and for an ambulance to be ready.
Dr. Paul Biedinger, who oversees Mass General’s emergency preparedness, says the hospital has been forced to move some children to the adult ICU.
“It is not an exaggeration to call this a crisis,” he said. “Over the past three years, the health care system has shown extraordinary resilience in creating critical care space when necessary.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 36 states across the country are seeing higher levels of RSV cases than last year. Hospitals in 10 states are at or above 80% capacity, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Many hospitals converted pediatric beds to adult beds during the pandemic, and some did not convert them back, contributing to the shortage.
Despite the challenges, Biedinger urges parents to bring their child in at the first sign of respiratory distress.
“They should know that all of us in health care are doing everything we can so that when a child is sick, we can get immediate care in a timely manner,” he said. “We’ll find a hospital bed for that patient.”