As hospitals brace for a surge in COVID-19 cases, some are looking to make room by sending their youngest patients elsewhere.
Leaders at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, a regional destination in Chicago for the sickest kids, have told local hospitals that mainly treat adults to transfer their pediatric patients who don’t have COVID-19 to Lurie. The goal is to free up beds at the other hospitals as the number of new coronavirus cases climb.
“We have been very forthcoming in our pledge to our fellow hospitals that we are fully available and open and welcoming,” said Dr. Marcelo Malakooti, an associate chief medical officer at Lurie.
Lurie doesn’t expect to see a surge in COVID-19 patients. Children have a low risk of contracting the new coronavirus, though over the weekend Illinois announced the first infant death from the virus in the state. Gov. JB Pritzker has said he expects the number of cases to peak in mid-April.
University of Illinois Hospital is among medical centers that may take up Lurie’s offer. U of I plans to use its regular and critical-care beds reserved for children for critically-ill adults instead, a hospital spokeswoman said in an email.
“We are transitioning care of our pediatric inpatients to other hospitals. In our outpatient pediatrics clinic, hours are currently reduced but we are expanding telehealth services to provide pediatric specialty consultations during the pandemic, and we are planning a ‘Catch-Up Vaccine Day,’ ” spokeswoman Jackie Carey wrote.
Hospitals throughout Illinois have already for years been reducing the number of hospital beds they have earmarked for children as fewer kids need to be hospitalized.
In 2018, hospitals staffed just over a total of 1,000 pediatric beds at their busiest time that year, and still about 57% of the beds were empty, the most recent state data shows.
Five years earlier, hospitals staffed about 21% more beds for kids — and about 60% were vacant.
Many community hospitals have partnered with Lurie to treat more children near their homes and transfer them to the regional hospital when kids need more intense care.
Kristen Schorsch covers public health and Cook County politics for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @kschorsch.