Chicago and suburban hospitals tell parents: Don't bring your child to ER unless they really need it

Pediatricians and hospital leaders came together at Chicago's Lurie Children's Hospital on Wednesday with a message for parents: there are too many children in the emergency rooms who do not need emergency care.

The doctors gathered to encourage parents to only use emergency rooms for real emergencies, and to contact their own pediatricians if in doubt.

Lurie President and CEO Dr. Thomas Shanley said that the sharp rise in patients they are seeing is not due to COVID; in fact of the 330 inpatients at Lurie right now, only four are COVID positive. Shanley said most patients who seem to have COVID really have RSV, which historically peaks in the winter months.

"Our emergency room has been experiencing a 78% increase in patient encounters compared to last August," Shanley said. "It's nearly a 25% increase in ER visits over pre-pandemic levels. It's causing a serious increase in our wait times, making it challenging to treat all the children who need our care."


The doctors reiterated that parents should seek emergency care if necessary. Their message is just that many illnesses being seen in emergency rooms right now could be handled at urgent care clinics or pediatricians' offices.

"There are children who require emergency department care," said Dr. Frank Belmonte, pediatrician at Advocate Aurora.  He listed several reasons to seek emergency room care right away:

  • Newborns with fevers over 100.4 degrees
  • Severe chest pains, trouble breathing and uncontrolled asthma attacks
  • Severe allergic reactions
  • Large burns and broken bones
  • Sudden neurological concerns including seizures or changes in the ability to speak
  • Safety concerns and thoughts of harming oneself or others

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said that nearly 57 percent of Illinois residents ages 12 to 17 have gotten their first dose of the vaccine.  Last week, there were 3,261 new cases of COVID-19 in 12 to 17 year olds and 3,476 new cases in children ages 5 to 11.