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CHEO on pace for a record September in its emergency department as viral season starts early

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CHEO is on pace to see a record number of patients visit its emergency department this month, as the viral season appears to have started earlier than normal this fall.

Ottawa's children's hospital says it's in discussions with the Ontario government to increase staffing, and parents and guardians bringing children to the emergency department should come prepared with snacks, blankets and toys to make the wait to see the doctor as comfortable as possible.

"What we're seeing now in the emergency department would be something more expecting to see in February when we're at the height of the viral season," CHEO president Alex Munter said.

"We're seeing COVID for sure, but also RSV, asthma that's being exacerbated, a little bit of flu. So it's the beginning of the viral season, which normally hits later in the fall appears to have started already."

An average of 216 patients a day are visiting the emergency department at CHEO for care this month.

CHEO said on Twitter Wednesday evening that its emergency department is experiencing "heavier than normal volumes", adding the "sickest, most urgent cases" would be seen first.

At 4 p.m. on Thursday, CHEO reported 57 patients were waiting to see a physician in the emergency department, with the longest wait time 11 hours and 33 minutes.

"We are doing everything we can to try to speed things up," Munter told CTV News Ottawa on Thursday afternoon.

"We have doctors taking extra shifts, we have staffed up, but the fact is our emergency department was built for 150 kids and is only 10 years old or so, and some days we get nearly twice that."

Three nurse practitioners are working in the emergency department, thanks to funding from the CHEO Foundation through donations.

"Our nurses, as well, work under medical directive, which means they, within their scope, they are able to prescribe medication or undertake certain procedures without a physician."

The CHEO emergency department saw record visits in May, June and July, and Munter says that will continue into the fall.

"We're seeing a 60 per cent increase over last September from kids that are here with cold and flu-like symptoms – shortness of breath, fever, need to be admitted so they can have oxygen," Munter said.

"So it's just very, very high volumes; we are working hard to keep up."

CHEO is offering two alternatives to the emergency department – the Kids Come First COVID-19 Care Clinic at CHEO and the East Ottawa Kids COVID-19 Care Clinic. CHEO says if your child is over two months and has a fever, cough, vomiting, belly pain, ear ache, or runny nose and cannot be seen in-person by their primary care provider, parents and guardians can book an appointment at either of the COVID-19 care clinics.

While Ottawa's children's hospital deals with record volumes in its emergency department, Munter insists care is always available.

"We want people to know that CHEO is always here for you when you need CHEO, but the most urgent cases are seen first," Munter said.

"For respiratory type issues, if a child is running a fever, for example, but is otherwise doing OK, the wait may be long."

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