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Golisano runs low on cribs, cancels elective procedures amid RSV surge

An image of a crib in a medical facility is shown.
Golisano Children's Hospital
Upstate Medical
An empty medical crib sits inside Golisano Children's Hospital in this undated photo.

Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital in Syracuse is delaying some medical procedures to expand its capacity as a respiratory illnesses are sending a surge of young patients to the facility. The hospital also faced a shortage of cribs as a high volume of smaller children filled most of those it had, largely due to RSV or respiratory syncytial virus.

Dr. Gregory Conners, executive director of Golisano, said the hospital at one point borrowed cribs from a facility up in Alexandria Bay while it waited for a vendor to fill an order. 

“I'm told we were in competition with 20 hospitals to buy more cribs from the crib vendor, because we're not the only one—everybody ran out of cribs," Conners said in an interview with WAER.

RSV and other respiratory illnesses are infecting children in large numbers across the country, leading to high occupancy rates at hospitals. The problem has grown so severe that national pediatric associations are calling on the president to declare it an emergency.

Conners said Golisano's pediatric emergency department in Syracuse is experiencing nearly double the usual volume of patients—it typically sees about 80 patients a day but some days it has been up to 150, and many are coming with RSV.

“We've had to cancel elective surgeries that require hospitalization afterwards, because we just don't have the room to care for the kids safely," he said.

RSV infects most kids by age 2 and symptoms include cough, fever and decreased appetite. There are no antiviral medications for the illness that typically peaks around February each year, but it can require hospitalization for supportive care.

But Conners said this year the circulating RSV strain appears to be more virulent, and the pandemic masking rules that may have prevented older kids from previously getting the seasonal illness have been lifted.

"So we're getting a tough strain and it's affecting a lot more kids. So those are the two things combined to help us set records and the emergency department volumes that we're seeing," Conners said.

The hospital is offering incentives to employees to pick up additional hours and is sending some older teenage patients to adult floors at Upstate to create more room. Golisano also extended its pediatric urgent care, known as after hours care, amid the surge.

The outside of a building that says "Golisano After Hours Care" is shown.
Golisano Children's Hospital
Upstate Medical
The outside of Golisano After Hours Care is seen in this undated photo.

Conners said the public can help out by checking with their pediatricians before going to the hospital, but the high patient volume should not deter parents from seeking emergency care at a hospital.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association this week called on President Joe Biden to make resources available to children's hospitals, referring to similar action taken during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a letter, the chief executives of the two organizations asked for relief that would allow them to more easily transfer patients, overcome workforce challenges and identify more space for care.

"These unprecedented levels of RSV happening with growing flu rates, ongoing high numbers of children in mental health crisis and serious workforce shortages are combining to stretch pediatric care capacity at the hospital and community level to the breaking point," the letter said.

The association leaders also asked for help with access to resources, equipment and medications that are in short supply.

Tarryn Mento is an award-winning digital, audio and video journalist with experience reporting from Arizona, Southern California, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. Tarryn produces in-depth and investigative content for WAER while overseeing the station's student reporter experience. She is also an adjunct professor at Syracuse University.