Respiratory illnesses increase strain on North Texas hospitals




Posted on December 21, 2012 at 6:27 PM

DALLAS -- When breathing became a struggle for three-month-old Charlee, her mother brought her to the emergency room at Children's Medical Center.

"Her coughing actually got a lot worse," Beatrice Macias said, "and her breathing, like she was trying to use her belly. She just kept overworking herself and coughing."

Charlee was diagnosed with RSV in a pediatric clinic two days ago. Instead of getting better, she got worse, even with treatment.

Hospitals are reporting a serious outbreak of RSV and influenza. The two illnesses usually hit at different times.

"And this year both of them hit at the same time," said Children's pediatric emergency medicine Dr. Rustin Morse, "and they hit much earlier than usual, so our volumes have been much higher than usual."

Children's has declared a code yellow emergency, which allows them to provide the resources to help deal with increased demand. It's the same at other medical centers across North Texas.

Cook Children's in Fort Worth reports double the number of patients. The emergency department has seen upwards of 600 patients a day.  In some cases, wait times can eclipse eight-to-ten hours.

"We've actually had our busiest month ever by about 25 patients a day," said Dr. Matt Bush of Medical City Dallas Hospital. "So this has been quite a busy flu season."

Officials say many of the patients have only mild illness, which doesn't require emergency treatment.

"It clogs up the system, so that patients with cancer, seizures, have a harder time getting into the system," Dr. Morse said.

Doctors said patients not having a crisis should seek care at primary or urgent care clinics. Officials also want healthy children, who might otherwise accompany a parent or sibling to the hospital, to stay home so they aren't subjected to contagious illness.

Because of the high volume of patients, Children's Medical Center is limiting the number of family members allowed in the ER to two.  They are telling families at the door to take healthy kids home or have someone pick them up, so they don't further crowd the limited space.