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I-Team: What parents should expect when taking their child to the emergency room as COVID cases surge

Kelsey Ray photographer
Posted at 5:12 PM, Jan 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-12 20:18:00-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The past year has been rough for parents like Dani Allen.

Allen lives in Greenwood, Missouri, with her husband and son, Knox, who is 18 months old.

The ongoing pandemic and staffing shortages have led to long waits at emergency rooms and urgent cares across the Kansas City area.

Allen said she's taken Knox to the ER three times in the past 12 months.

"Our shortest wait was three and a half hours," Allen said. "Our longest wait was five hours."

The Allens most recent trip to the ER was when Knox got sick in November.

"He started breathing weird," Allen said. "His fever had increased and it was about 5:00 on a Sunday afternoon, so your options are limited."

The Allens live about 40 minutes away from Children's Mercy Hospital. So, they took Knox to the nearest ER where they said it took three hours to see a doctor.

"By the time we got in, unfortunately, they didn't have anybody who could do an IV for us," Allen said. "With those little veins, they just didn't have anybody that had the experience to do that so we pretty much waited three hours for an RSV test."

Allen and her husband got another surprise when they arrived at the ER. Allen's husband had to go home. Only one parent was allowed to be with Knox due to stricter COVID-19 regulations.

It's a situation that can be particularly troublesome for single parents who may need to bring along other children to the emergency room.

Knox tested positive for RSV, but the hospital couldn't treat him.

Most hospitals across the metro encourage parents to visit one of the Children's Mercy locations.

But, when time is of the essence, parents like Allen said it's not always an option.

"A lot of parents are looking for resources for what we can do with our kiddos," Allen said.

Local hospital wait times and policies

The KSHB 41 I-Team checked in with local hospitals regarding their wait times and COVID-19 policies.

Children's Mercy did not specify its average ER wait time but did tell the I-Team the hospital prefers if just one parent brings their child to the ER. Though, the hospital said exceptions could be made.

Additionally, there are no visiting hour limitations for parents. A parent can be with their child 24/7.

A representative for University of Kansas Health System said patients visiting the ER for non-urgent issues can expect to wait up to four hours to be seen.

Additionally, one parent can attend the emergency room with their child at a time. Kids under the age of 12 cannot visit. Though, the hospital said it can make exceptions as needed.

Saint Luke's provided the I-Team with data for Wednesday, Jan. 12:

  • The Plaza location had an average wait time of 2.5 hours.
  • Saint Luke's East has an average wait time of three hours.
  • Saint Luke's South-no wait.
  • Saint Luke's North has an average wait time of 15-20 minutes.

Anyone under the age of 18 is allowed to have a parent or guardian with them on a 24/7 basis. That applies to all Saint Luke's locations.

Overland Park Regional Medical Center did not provide the I-Team with wait times but said it is dedicated to keeping families together during an injury or illness. Parents are allowed to be with their children in the emergency room.

Knowing when to take a child to the hospital can help parents avoid the ER chaos

According to Cleveland Clinic, a parent should get their child to an emergency room if the child has a broken bone, is bleeding or has shortness of breath.

Dr. Jennifer Watts with Children's Mercy said in less severe instances, a call to the pediatrician is a good first step.

"If your child has a runny nose, if your child has a cough, if your child has a symptom that is not life threatening, then it's okay to go ahead and call your pediatrician," Watts said. "Try to get them seen in the pediatric office is possible, or at least get some advice over the phone."

Visit a community hospital for a shorter wait

Another option for people looking to avoid long waits is to visit one of Saint Luke's Community Hospitals.

The community hospitals are fully accredited and can treat a variety of illnesses.

Data provided by Saint Luke's show wait times at the community hospitals are significantly less:

  • Roeland Park: 30 minutes
  • Olathe: 50-10 minutes
  • Shawnee: No wait
  • Leawood: 40 minutes

We want to hear from you on what resources Kansas City families might benefit from to help us all through the pandemic. If you have five minutes, feel free to fill out this survey to help guide our coverage: KSHB COVID Survey.