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Seattle Children’s emergency room sees unprecedented demand

The emergency department at Seattle Children's hospital said it is seeing an unprecedented number of patients.

SEATTLE — Seattle Children's emergency room (ER) is facing long wait times and an unprecedented volume of patients coming through its doors.

Seattle Children's Emergency Medicine Medical Director Dr. Tony Woodward said children are not just coming to the hospital for COVID-19. He said that over the course of the pandemic, kids have not been exposed to common viruses as often.

Many kids have worn masks in school during the pandemic. But now that the mask mandates have been lifted, kids getting sicker. That's in addition to the fact that local pediatric beds are full in most hospitals. That means most patients are now going to the ER instead.

It's a problem Woodward said is going to get worse as flu season approaches.

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"We've converted a storage room into patient care space; we have a tent. We see patients in a tent," Woodward said. "It's dissatisfying for everyone; for the staff, for the physicians, for the families to be seen in these ancillary spaces, but that's the only way we can do it because we don't have enough physical beds."

Woodward said despite long wait times, families should never forgo going to an ER if needed. Patients are seen by the severity of their sickness and will always get the immediate care they need.

On Seattle Children's website, the hospital asks guardians to reach out to the child's primary care provider or take their children to urgent care “for illnesses and injuries that are not medical emergencies or life-threatening.”

The hospital’s emergency department does not provide child check-ups, return-to-play evaluations after a concussion, sports or camp physicals or referrals to other Seattle Children’s clinics, according to the hospital's website.

Seattle Children's posted a list on its website that dictates which situations parents should bring children to the ER or an urgent care center. Click here for more information.

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