In addition to flu season, the Kansas City metro area is also experiencing a surge in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). As a result, area hospitals are experiencing increased patient volumes, leading to long wait times and delayed treatment.

Molly Kurtz, a physician assistant who treats patients in the emergency room (ER) at Advent Health Shawnee Mission, said the ongoing nursing shortage both locally and throughout the region is contributing to the problem. Despite some pediatricians working on their days off, hospitals simply aren’t able to keep up.

Unfortunately, patients are having pretty extended wait times in the waiting room to even be seen by a provider,” Kurtz said. “Then if they need to be transferred to a different level of care, like to a pediatric ICU, there are not as many open beds to transfer those patients to because they’re full of sick kids and there’s just not the staff to take care of them.”

Typically, Advent Health transfers patients to other local hospitals if they do not have open beds available. However, because facilities throughout the metro area are affected, patients are experiencing wait times ranging from several hours to a full day or more and being transferred as far as Columbia and St. Louis, Missouri.

According to Kurtz, transport companies that work with hospitals are also experiencing increased call volume and decreased staff, adding to the wait time to be able to get patients to hospitals able to provide higher levels of care. Children’s Mercy, the local expert in pediatric care and transportation, is in especially high demand. As a result, patients are kept in ER waiting rooms and beds until transport becomes available.

“The problem is, if we have a child that we know needs to go to a different facility but there’s not a transport available, then they’re being held in our ER,” Kurtz said. “The longer that they’re in our ER, that’s one less bed to treat our ER patients who are waiting in the waiting room or are coming in by ambulance. That just makes everything back up. If we’re holding a bunch of patients that either need transport to a different facility or need to be admitted upstairs to our hospital, and there just aren’t beds or staff available to take those patients, then everything just comes to a screeching halt.”

Individuals can help mitigate bed and transport shortages by protecting themselves and loved ones from RSV and the flu. “Prevention is key: getting flu vaccinations for both you and your children, good hand washing, staying home when you’re sick,” Kurtz said. “There’s unfortunately not an RSV vaccine that’s available at this time for babies but keeping your baby home and away from sick people and large crowds is the best you can do to try to prevent RSV.”  

RSV is a virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages and can cause breathing problems. The virus is highly contagious and spreads through droplets containing the virus when someone coughs or sneezes. It also can live on surfaces, such as counters and doorknobs, as well as on hands and clothing.

Children who attend daycare and school should wash hands well and often to help prevent getting others sick. Children with cold and flu-like symptoms should stay home and away from siblings and other children, especially infants, until their symptoms clear up.

Examples of cold symptoms that could be a sign of RSV include:

These symptoms usually appear in stages and not all at once. In very young infants with RSV, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people recover from RSV in a week or two. However, the virus can be serious, especially for infants and older adults, who may need to be hospitalized if they are having trouble breathing or are dehydrated.

Call your health care provider if your child:

  • Develops a fever after having a cold or has a high fever.
  • Has a cough or other symptoms that get worse.
  • Is wheezing.
  • Shows signs of dehydration, such as fewer wet diapers than usual.
  • Is very cranky or refuses to breastfeed or bottle-feed.

People with chronic health problems, such as asthma and congestive heart failure, are at higher risk of developing severe RSV infections. Severe RSV infections, such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia, can lead to hospitalization.

Because RSV and other respiratory problems can exacerbate both the flu and COVID-19, it’s important to get vaccinated to prevent these illnesses. Stay up to date on the latest COVID-19 vaccine and booster information and find flu and COVID-19 vaccines near you.