High volumes in pediatric Emergency Departments

Call for public cooperation

Montreal, Wednesday, December 6, 2023 - Once again this year, the emergency rooms (ER) at the Montreal Children's Hospital (MCH) and CHU Sainte-Justine are under heavy pressure from the high volume of cases of respiratory viruses. As the holiday season approaches, these pediatric centres are joining forces to remind parents to avoid going to the ER if their child's condition does not require immediate care.

“In the ER, patients are seen in order of priority following a nurse's assessment. Therefore, any patient who presents with a cold, flu or gastroenteritis and whose symptoms are mild should plan to wait several hours before seeing a doctor in the ER,” says Dr. Laurie Plotnick, Medical Director of the MCH’s ER.

The Montreal Children's Hospital and CHU Sainte-Justine are also reassuring parents that no child in need of medical care will be turned away from the ER.

“Emergency services should be reserved for people whose condition requires immediate care. For children who are not seriously ill or injured, other solutions can be considered, such as the 811 line, or walk-in clinics,” adds Dr. Antonio D'Angelo, Medical Chief of the CHU Sainte-Justine Emergency Department.

Between November 17 and December 1, 2023, patients with a minor health problem (categories P4-P5) accounted for an average of 57.73 per cent of visits to the MCH ER. For the same period, the average occupancy rate of the MCH ER was 157,47 per cent.

On their side, the average occupancy rate in the CHU Sainte-Justine emergency department was 172.13 per cent between November 17 and December 1, 2023. Patients with minor health problems (categories P4-P5) accounted for an average of 37.26 per cent of visits to the CHU Sainte-Justine emergency department between November 5 and 28, 2023.

Care at home: Often the best solution

“Mild flu symptoms, gastroenteritis and fever, which generally last three to five days, can be treated at home,” explains Dr. D'Angelo. “When in doubt, you can consult your community pharmacist for prompt advice from a health professional. If symptoms persist, a consultation with a physician remains the preferred option,” he recommends.

“Preventive measures, such as vaccination and good hygiene practices like regular hand-washing, are effective ways to reduce the number of unplanned emergency room visits and the long waits that follow during the busiest time of the year,” adds Dr. Plotnick.

Other options

In case of symptoms, first call Info-Santé at 8-1-1. Nurses are available at all times to assess your child's condition, advise you and let you know when and whom to consult.

You can also contact your family doctor, the Primary Care Access Point (GAP), your local Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux (CISSS) or a walk-in clinic. Pharmacists are also excellent advisors.

The MCH and CHU Sainte-Justine websites also offer a wealth of advice and information for families.

When to go to the emergency?

It is advisable to go immediately to the emergency room in the following cases:

  • Fever in a baby under three months of age or fever with torticollis;
  • Unusual sleepiness or confusion;
  • Difficulty breathing;
  • Vomiting or diarrhea with an inability to retain fluids and/or signs of dehydration;
  • Injuries such as:
    • Head trauma with loss of consciousness, confusion or repeated vomiting
    • A cut that may require stitches;
    • Injury where a broken bone is suspected (example: swelling or inability to use the limb);
    • Eye injury;
    • Burns resulting in blistering;
  • Ingestion of a poison, drug or unknown substance;
  • Skin rash resembling small bruises.