• Article
  • October 27, 2021

What’s at Stake as Children’s Hospitals Navigate Through Crisis

Children’s hospitals come together to get through multiple crisis.

By Mark Wietecha

Last fall, few of us imagined we’d be entering October 2021 with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to rage around us. The resulting toll on our children and children’s hospitals continues to grow and has reached a breaking point in many areas around the country.

In 2020, the spring and summer were characterized by low hospital volumes, high financial losses and challenges leveraging hospital staff in new ways to meet changing care needs. We rallied as a community to secure federal pandemic financial support and share best practices on staffing and care delivery. This helped us collectively get through what we believed was the worst of the pandemic.

Fast forward to fall 2021. Children’s hospitals are struggling with a different phase of the pandemic. At press time, vaccinations for children under the age of 12 are still not available, and substantial numbers of adults continue to decline vaccination.

As children have re-engaged at school and in social activities, we’re experiencing higher pediatric volumes driven by COVID-19 variants. Further compounding the increase in COVID-19 volumes, the RSV season that never materialized in 2020-21 has arrived with record-setting admissions. These higher volumes are challenging capacity levels in children’s hospitals across the country.

Finally, and importantly, the behavioral health crisis has been worsened by the pandemic’s disruption to children’s lives, relationships and activities. We’re again seeing a spike in behavioral health visits driven by suicidal ideation and self-injury, overwhelming the national mental health system available to care for children and families.

We are rallying as a community of children’s hospitals to find our way through crisis. We’re working with the Biden administration to make greater financial support available to children’s hospitals, like the recently announced additional Provider Relief Funding. We’re also working together on major bills in Congress to strengthen national pediatric delivery system infrastructure capacity and improve mental health care capabilities for children.

The pediatric workforce is also on our minds. The nurses, pediatricians, technical professionals, skilled support staff and the many roles making the operations of a children’s hospital and health system possible need support to continue providing access to high-quality care for every child.

To everyone on the front lines for kids, thank you for your efforts and your commitment to children in the face of adversity. We will get through this together.

Mark Wietecha is CEO of Children’s Hospital Association.
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