Originally created 02/12/99

MCG pediatric unit faces growing pains



A deluge of children sickened by a respiratory virus and a lack of experienced pediatric nurses have strained the recently opened Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center and forced the hospital to send some patients elsewhere.

The new $53 million hospital is suffering some growing pains as its beds have filled faster than expected, forcing it to arrange for other hospitals, such as University Hospital, to pick up about eight of the children in the past month, said Medical Director William Kanto, who is also chairman of pediatrics at MCG.

Part of the problem can be blamed on a widespread respiratory virus that has sickened a number of children, and part of it is a lack of nurses, Dr. Kanto said. The hospital had planned to operate 12 pediatric intensive care unit beds and had been averaging 11 patients there, but it has been forced by lack of staff to cut back to eight, Dr. Kanto said.

"We have more patients at the hospital now than we've had before because of whatever this illness is that's going through, and that's made a lot of kids a lot sicker," Dr. Kanto said.

The intensive care unit is short about six pediatric nurses, which may be part of the nationwide shortage in pediatric nurses, said Barbara Meeks, director of inpatient services at the hospital. Since September, the hospital has been going through 14 agencies seeking temporary nurses to help but only recently has gotten one, Mrs. Meeks said.

The hospital had intended to phase in the number of patient beds it would use as demand rose, but it rose much quicker than expected, Dr. Kanto said. The hospital had been operating 50 beds but at one point rose to 55 before it was cut back, Dr. Kanto said.

"We reached the point that we were stretching the nursing staff so badly that we simply couldn't keep doing it," Dr. Kanto said.

Officials are now asking to move to full capacity of 76 beds but are facing budget constraints at MCG.

Nurse staffing was also strained by other phased-in openings at the children's hospital, such as the pediatric operating rooms and the pediatric emergency room, Dr. Kanto said. Traffic at the hospital's emergency room also has been high, Dr. Kanto said.

"Our ER has been spectacular," he said.

University's pediatric floor also has been running near capacity but has been able to help pick up the load, said Sara Brodie, clinical director for pediatrics.

"Right now, we're able to handle them," she said.