Overcapacity at Primary Children’s Hospital ICU impacting patients needing outpatient care

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Doctors at Primary Children’s Hospital worry about the upcoming winter season, with families gathering in large groups for the holidays. Their ICU continues to surpass capacity, with staff reporting levels at 118 percent Tuesday. In the past few months, officials reported their levels have ranged between 100 and 125 percent.

Medical experts said they’re not just worried about COVID-19. But also about RSV, the flu, other respiratory illnesses, and other serious injuries that will continue to overwhelm their ICU. They said there’s just not enough bed space, leading caregivers to double-bunk patients and place some ICU patients in non-ICU areas. If the state’s COVID-19 numbers continue to go up, officials said they’re worried some children might not get the care that they need.

Dr. Andrew Pavia, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at University of Utah Health and Director of Epidemiology at Primary Children’s Hospital said they’re also facing a shortage of staff and forced to increase their ratio of nurses-to-patients. One of the reasons is simply burnout from working overtime and fatigue from consistently caring for sick patients for 18 months straight. They say their emergency department is currently running at the highest volume it’s seen in two years.

“A really big problem for us and for every healthcare system right now is that most of our caregivers are parents. With the huge amount of disease that’s happening in our schools right now, our caregivers are having to stay home to take care of their kids with COVID or their kids who quarantine because of COVID exposure,” said Dr. Pavia.

The situation is so dire that Primary Children’s Hospital delayed all non-emergency and outpatient procedures until November 28th. One of the people being impacted by this is Deserae Turner, the incredible 19-year-old who survived being shot in the head in 2017. She now lives with limited eyesight, paralysis on the left side of her body, as well as severe migraines.

“I have pain every day. Today has been hard. I just woke up from a three-hour nap, just because nap times are my escape time,” she said.

Deserae’s mother, April Turner explained that botox is used as a method of pain management in the back of her head where she suffered a brain injury from the gunshot wound. Botox is also used to help with spasticity that she suffers on the left side of her body to keep her limbs loose and alleviate tightness.

Turner explained that typically each procedure requires a different specialist — a neurologist to administer Botox in the head and then a physical medicine rehab doctor for the left side of her body. Insurance will only cover one procedure every 90 days, but she explained Primary Children’s Hospital allows them to do both sessions at the same time. She originally had an appointment scheduled for November 5th, but that didn’t happen.

“We got the call the day before that it was cancelled. So that’s a bummer. Finding a substitute or replacement is difficult,” she said. “I asked doctors when we can reschedule, how much longer it will be, whether we should wait, or if we should find another alternative. They don’t know. Nobody knows. Every day she goes without the treatment, is just another day of more intense pain.”

For now, it’s just a waiting game for Turner and her family. They may have to look elsewhere for care and settle for getting treatment for only one part of her body.

“I feel bad that the hospitals are so overwhelmed. I feel bad that the staff is overwhelmed. I feel bad that her doctors are like, ‘My hands are tied. I can’t do anything,'” said Turner.

Doctors highly encourage parents to get their children vaccinated for both the flu (ages 6 months and up) and COVID-19 (ages 5 years and up) and mask up in public and group settings. The Utah Department of Health reported that only 10 percent of kids 5 to 11 have gotten at least one dose of the shot, after the COVID-19 vaccine became readily available for this age group one week ago.

“Help us help you. We need to protect school kids, so that people are able to go to work.” We need to protect school kids, so that they aren’t getting sick. We need to use masks in public, so not so many people are getting ill while we’re waiting for the vaccine to take effect,” said Dr. Pavia.

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