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UPDATE: Canadian Red Cross to help CHEO amid surge in respiratory illnesses in children

"This will allow some of our redeployed staff to go back to their regular roles and ensure Team CHEO can provide the safe, world-class care that our patients deserve," Tammy DeGiovanni, CHEO's chief nursing executive, said in a statement.
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File photo.

The Canadian Red Cross will be sending staff to help the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa amid a surge of children and youth with respiratory illnesses, the organization said Sunday.

The Red Cross "will be providing small teams of personnel to support hospital staff and allow them to focus on clinical tasks," spokesperson Leianne Musselman confirmed in an email.

Musselman said the aid request came directly from the hospital and did not indicate a firm start date for the agreement. 

But Tammy DeGiovanni, CHEO's chief nursing executive, said a small contingent of Red Cross personnel would arrive as of next week to support clinical teams.

"This will allow some of our redeployed staff to go back to their regular roles and ensure Team CHEO can provide the safe, world-class care that our patients deserve," DeGiovanni said in a statement, noting the hospital has received help from other local health-care providers and community care organizations during a time she said required "all hands on deck.". 

CHEO opened a second intensive care unit in November to treat what it called an unprecedented number of critically ill babies and children. 

DeGiovanni said the three-pronged combination of seasonal flu, Respiratory syncytial virus and COVID-19 has forced the hospital to take drastic measures. 

"We have redeployed staff and medical staff from surgical and medical care units, added extra beds and workers in our pediatric intensive care and emergency departments as well as inpatient units, and asked non-clinical staff to support clinical teams where possible," she said. "Everyone at CHEO has been going all out to take care of kids and their families.   

Infectious disease experts have been urging parents to get children five and under in Ontario vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza ahead of the holiday season. 

According to Public Health Ontario, as of Nov. 6 only seven per cent of children in the province aged six months to five years had received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. But experts say it's those youngest kids who are at higher risk of hospitalization from COVID-19 compared to other children and teens. 

Several children's hospitals in Ontario have been cutting back on surgeries to ease pressure on pediatric intensive care units and emergency rooms that have been stretched beyond capacity for weeks.

The issue is not unique to Ontario, with hospitals across the country struggling to keep pace with the triple wave of viral respiratory illnesses.

Alberta Health Services said it's discharging all children from the Rotary Flames House in Calgary that helps dying children and their families. It's also pausing admissions due to a virus-driven influx of patients. 

Children's hospitals in Calgary and Edmonton have been at or above full capacity since last week.

Meanwhile, in Newfoundland, some routine surgeries and appointments at the Janeway Children's Health and Rehabilitation Centre in the capital city of St. John's are being cancelled next week due to the surge in illnesses and admissions. 

This report was first published by The Canadian Press.

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