Surge in sick children continues to cause long ER wait times in metro Detroit

Hospitals are seeing hundreds of cases of respiratory syncytial virus infection
Posted at 5:29 PM, Nov 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-30 17:29:48-05

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) — If you need emergency care, there is no getting around it: you need to get help. But if you have a minor cut in need of stitches or a sprain, consider going to urgent care. 

That is the message from emergency rooms where patients are experiencing long waits as we see a continuing surge in respiratory illnesses. 

“We waited about seven hours before we saw a doctor,” Carmen McAlister said. 

McAlister took her 6-year-old son to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital for severe abdominal pain. She feared he had appendicitis. Fortunately, an ultrasound and MRI found it was nothing serious and he is now feeling better. 

McAlister is not complaining about the wait. She believes it is important that people know there are a lot of sick children in our area right now. 

“We saw so many babies and toddlers and heard their coughs coming from other rooms. They were terrifying,” McAlister said. 

Hospitals told 7 Action News they are at times having to shuffle patients to other locations as emergency rooms are pushed to their limits.

“We are continuing to see a lot of RSV in the emergency room and also in our inpatient floors,” said Luane Thomas Ewald, Mott chief operating officer. 

Ewald says in the last two months, the hospital has seen about 400 RSV cases. Last year, it was half that. 

RSV is a common respiratory virus that can be serious for young children, especially babies. 

“It is causing respiratory difficulty and nothing, as a parent, is more stressful than seeing your child have trouble breathing,” said Dr. Jaime Hope, medical director of Emergency Medicine at Corewell Livonia. 

Hope said pediatricians can help parents decide whether to head to urgent care or the ER, but don’t hesitate to go to the ER in an emergency. With RSV, respiratory distress can be dangerous. 

“If they are flaring their nostrils or using their neck or rib or abdominal muscles to breathe, those are distressing signs. And we are admitting them to the hospital for this respiratory difficulties,” she said. 

Back at C.S. Mott, Ewald says they are preparing for a “tridemic” of viruses. They are hiring traveling nurses, preparing for a surge in flu and then COVID-19 in the coming weeks. 

“We are just starting to see the flu. It is in full force in all of our surrounding states. So we are bracing for the flu to be hitting here very shortly as well,” she said. 

“They have to be exhausted, but they are still showing up for people. They were being so kind and patient,” McAlister said of health care workers. 

While there is no vaccine for RSV, doctors say it is not too late to vaccinate yourself and your children against the flu and COVID-19 as waves are expected.