Only 14% of hospitals are prepared to treat children: 7 notes

Only 14 percent of emergency departments nationwide are certified as ready to treat children or are children's hospitals designed to care for young people, The Wall Street Journal reported Oct. 1.

A 2023 study found more than 1,400 children's deaths could have been prevented over a six-year period if every department were prepared for pediatric cases.

Yet most hospitals have not taken action, according to the Journal's investigation. In 25 states, there is no check for pediatric preparedness. The newspaper also found more than 70 percent of emergency departments have completed a federally funded assessment to gauge their readiness for children, but results are confidential. 

The Journal found only three states — Illinois, New Jersey and Tennessee — have mandatory preparedness programs, and 22 states have voluntary programs. Of those states, only five have more than 50 percent of their hospitals prepared for pediatric patients: Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, Tennessee and Utah. Meanwhile, 15 states had hospitals with less than 5 percent of emergency departments deemed prepared for pediatric patients. 

Here are five more things to know:

  1. Children are four times as likely to die in less-prepared emergency rooms, a 2019 study found.

  2. A 2015 analysis found the median score for emergency department pediatric readiness was a "D."

  3. Although children account for 30 percent of U.S. emergency room visits, most are treated in EDs that care for fewer than 15 kids per day.

  4. Between 2008 and 2018, hospitals cut nearly 20 percent of pediatric inpatient units, and most pediatric beds are now concentrated in urban areas.

  5. Every year, an estimated half a million children are evaluated for psychiatric emergencies in emergency departments — a figure that has increased over the past decade — that are unequipped to handle the crisis.

Chris DeRienzo, MD, chief physician executive for the American Hospital Association, released a letter on Oct. 2, and said, "Let's be clear — America's hospitals and health systems are committed to continually improving the care we provide for our communities, and that includes caring for kids. Implying that hundreds of thousands of health care professionals working in our EDs — many of them parents themselves — don't care about treating kids is just wrong. Even worse, arguing they don't prioritize that care because treating children makes less money is insulting." 

Dr. DeRienzo said that the Journal investigation misrepresented three points in its article and provided clarification here.

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