Children's hospitals 'should not be a silent bystander' during pandemic, CEO says

Like other U.S. hospitals and health systems, Children's Mercy Kansas City (Mo.) is treating COVID-19 patients while grappling with supply chain challenges and trying to protect the safety of employees, visitors and patients' families. However, the organization, which has 367 beds between two hospitals, is not experiencing the same patient volume as many adult hospitals. As of April 20, the children's hospital had treated four COVID-19 patients.

"Children's hospitals are experiencing COVID-19 differently. The volume of children confirmed with COVID-19 is dramatically lower [than infected adult patients]. Typically — not exclusively — kids who are confirmed also have experienced minor symptoms," Paul Kempinski, president and CEO of Children's Mercy Kansas City, said in an interview with Becker's Hospital Review.

Mr. Kempinski realized that, due to its lower volume of COVID-19 patients, his organization could act as a regional resource and help mitigate the burden adult hospitals could feel if there is a COVID-19 surge at adult hospitals in the Kansas City area. That's why Children's Mercy Kansas City developed a pandemic response plan.

The first step in that plan is a Tier One response, which would involve transferring children being cared for in adult hospitals to Children's Mercy Kansas City, where overall inpatient volume is down by 30 percent and the surgical and clinical business is down by nearly 75 percent due to effects of the pandemic. This creates a layer of capacity at adult hospitals for adults and those likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19, said Mr. Kempinski.

The second step in the response plan is raising the age threshold for patients at Children's Mercy Kansas City from 21 to 26. Mr. Kempinski said this would create additional surge capacity for adult hospitals by sending their younger adults to Children's Mercy Kansas City.

Lastly, Children's Mercy Kansas City has suspended surgical care at Children's Mercy Hospital Kansas in Overland Park, Kan., and offered it as surge facility for adult hospitals, if needed.

Overall, when it comes to adult hospitals working with children's hospitals on triage issues, Mr. Kempinski said children's hospitals "should not be a silent bystander."

"We have an opportunity to be an active participant in how this virus is manifesting," he said. "We have daily calls with regional adult hospitals. We know their constraints in terms of ventilator, bed capacities. So, always know how the virus is evolving in terms of constraints [adult hospitals] are seeing. Remain active and engaged participants."


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