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Why Children Are Dying in ERs

Posted on October 2, 2023

Children face higher risks of severe health issues or even death when they receive treatment in emergency rooms ill-equipped to care for them, reported a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. Only 14% of U.S. hospital ERs are certified to treat pediatric patients, and children in unprepared ERs are four times more likely to face life-threatening outcomes compared to those treated in pediatric-ready facilities.

The Wall Street Journal surveyed 50 states, Washington D.C., and more than 600 hospitals to compile the report, and compiled the first list of hospitals that have received state certification or some level of readiness for pediatric patients, including children’s hospitals and children’s trauma centers. More than 25 states don’t check pediatric preparedness in ERs at all.

The lack of preparedness has had tragic results. According to a study published in JAMA, 1,440 children died from 2012 to 2017 due to poorly prepared ERs. ER providers who typically don’t treat children tend to miss life-threatening illnesses that present as other common conditions. Untrained providers also may use drug doses and equipment meant for adults, which can have potentially devastating effects.

The article cited examples of avoidable deaths, including one caused by an intubation tube that was too large for a toddler, and a provider who struggled in locating the child’s airway. Another missed the sign of a dangerously crumpled bowel, leading to four months in the hospital for the child and lifelong complications. If diagnosed correctly and early enough, the bowel could have been treated with an enema. In another instance, an ER sent an infant home, failing to diagnose the child with a deadly virus.

Hospitals have been warned for decades about the need to improve their ER facilities for pediatric patients, noted the article. However, there is little incentive with limited oversight and a lack of funding. In addition, child emergency care isn’t as high in demand as other services. However, there are simple steps that hospitals can take. This includes assigning a doctor and nurse to coordinate improvements, stocking pediatric-size equipment and supplies, and training staff in pediatric treatment.

Delayed care and other poor decisions in the ER can have serious and even life-threatening implications. Tom Duffy has recovered tens of millions of dollars for victims of emergency room injury and negligence, including a $21,000,000 verdict for a patient discharged with misdiagnosed hypoglycemia. If you suspect that you or a loved one is a victim of medical malpractice at a Philadelphia hospital, please contact us.