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Welcome to the Pediatric Emergency Department: What to Expect during the Pandemic

A tour of the Emergency Dept at MCH – what to expect when you arrive during the pandemic (with messaging about added safety protocols put in place)
“We’re taking steps to optimize care in the physical space we have,”

Please note that his article was written in December 2021, before the Omicron variant of COVID-19 became as widespread. All of Hamilton Health Sciences, including the Emergency Department at McMaster Children’s Hospital, remains flexible and continues adapting to the evolving pandemic.

So many aspects of our lives have been changed by COVID-19 over the past couple of years. However, the commitment to health care excellence at McMaster Children’s Hospital isn’t one of them.

This is definitely true in the Pediatric Emergency Department (ED), where a multidisciplinary team specializes in the care of pediatric patients. Since the beginning of the pandemic, a number of changes have been implemented in the ED to ensure the safest possible experience for patients and families.

Managing space

“We’re taking steps to optimize care in the physical space we have,” explains Dr. Chris Sulowski, Acting Division Head of the Pediatric Emergency Department. “Plexiglass dividers separate seats in the waiting room, where we’re trying to limit numbers, and we’ve added seating along the hallway so visitors can be more spread out.”

Only one caregiver is currently allowed to accompany each pediatric patient, which is a significant change from pre-pandemic times.

“We realize that this can be difficult when two parents or multiple family members want to be present, but it’s necessary to reduce crowding in the ED,” says Siobhan McEwen, Clinical Manager of the Pediatric Emergency Department.

Patients and families

Due to a number of factors, visitors may experience longer wait times than they did before the pandemic.

“The Hospital is seeing a significant increase in visitors, and we are catching up after the lull of presentations during the earlier part of the pandemic,” says Dr. Sulowski. “As well, extra time is required to clean and thoroughly disinfect examination rooms between patients. To increase safety, we’ve replaced the curtains in the examination areas with folding screens, which are easier and faster to clean.”

Before the pandemic, young visitors often enjoyed playing games on the touchscreen monitors located throughout the ED. However, those games are currently unavailable to help reduce the chance of infectious spread.

“The ED now has free wi-fi, and parents are encouraged to bring wireless devices and other fun distractions to keep their children occupied during their wait,” explains Siobhan. “And the Child Life team continues to help young patients cope with anxieties they may be experiencing during their visit.”

Passion and dedication

As patient volumes continue increasing, the doctors, nurses and other health care professionals in the ED reaffirm their commitment to providing the best possible care.  

“We have a very engaged team in terms of ongoing quality improvement and ensuring health care excellence,” says Siobhan. “Our team members are passionate about what they do, and we make sure we take time regularly to celebrate each other and the work we do in the ED.”

Dr. Sulowski is also grateful to have such an accomplished and dedicated team.

“They continue to go above and beyond to help patients and families when they need it most,” he says. “The team is dedicated to making a real difference every single day.”

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