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St. Louis Children's Hospital Is Now Seeing Adult Patients With COVID-19

BJC Healthcare is completing two new medical towers.
Huy Mach
Washington University School of Medicine
St. Louis Children’s Hospital is now admitting adult patients with COVID-19, as Barnes-Jewish Hospital nears its capacity.

Updated at 6:20 p.m. Nov. 20 with comments from hospital officials

St. Louis Children’s Hospital is now treating adult patients with the coronavirus.

The hospital began admitting adult patients over a week ago in an attempt to relieve doctors at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, a hospital spokesperson confirmed Friday afternoon. Intensive care units at Barnes-Jewish and other area hospitals are nearing capacity. Children’s Hospital is treating adults in both its emergency room and ICU.

This is the second time since the start of the pandemic that Children’s Hospital has treated adult COVID-19 patients. Doctors admitted adult patients “on an extremely limited basis during the spring surge,” Kendra Whittle, spokesperson for BJC HealthCare said in an email. She declined to specify how many ICU beds remain available at Children’s Hospital.

Admitting adult patients for short stays at the hospital is part of BJC HealthCare’s plan to manage it’s bed capacity, a statement from the hospital system said.

Doctors at the hospital now must juggle treating adult patients and keeping up with normal care for kids. The hospital is admitting more children weekly with the coronavirus than since the pandemic began.

This past week, 11 children were admitted to Children’s Hospital for the coronavirus, according to Emergency Medicine Physician Dr. Katelyn Spectorsky. While the hundreds of adults admitted over the last week at area hospitals dwarfs the number of new child patients, Spectorsky said it is concerning that healthy kids who have been considered low-risk for developing severe cases of the COVID-19 are coming to the hospital.

“We feel so strongly about masking up and staying safe and making smart choices, that it’s hard to see people not always making that choice and in return we see their kid with COVID,” she said.

Most children diagnosed with the illness just need fluids and rest, Spectorsky said. Adults with COVID-19 often require more intensive care in hospitals, but she said doctors at Children’s Hospital are prepared to aid other hospitals with the surge in adult cases.

“We’re lucky in that we see a number of people, [ages] 18 to 22, that still interact with the pediatric system that gives us good experience for taking care of healthy young adults,” Spectorsky said.

Treating children will remain the top priority for doctors as cases continue to surge, Whittle, the BJC HealthCare spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Hospital said Friday morning it isn’t treating adult patients with COVID-19 now, but it does have the capacity to admit them from partner hospitals.

Children admitted with the coronavirus at Cardinal Glennon typically are discharged from the emergency room without needing hospital care, Chief Medical Officer Marya Strand said in an email. The hospital has seen a “minimal increase” in coronavirus hospitalizations among children this past week, Strand said.

ICUs near capacity

While intensive care units in most hospitals in the region’s four largest health systems are at around 90% capacity, some units are completely full, Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said Friday.

“We can create ICU capacity up until a certain point, but we don’t like to do that,” Garza said. “It’s not optimal for the care of our patients. We can stretch, but there’s also a limit to stretching.”

Barnes-Jewish and other large academic medical centers are more likely to field transfer requests, hospital officials said, and are more likely to reach capacity quickly.

To deal with the swell of patients, hospitals including those in BJC HealthCare and SSM Health systems have started rescheduling or postponing elective proceduresthat require hospital beds or overnight stays.

BJC HealthCare facilities have started putting into place crisis care plans, said Dr. Clay Dunagan, chief clinical officer at BJC, which includes St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Already, BJC hospitals are placing multiple ICU patients in single rooms, he said.

“We’ll soon be converting anesthesia recovery spaces, operating rooms, cath labs and equipping them to function as ICU capable,” he said. Of course that means they can’t be used for other functions, we compromise care in other part. ... We are beginning to convert rooms to function differently than they were designed.”

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Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Shahla Farzan is a PhD ecologist and science podcast editor at American Public Media. She was previously a reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.