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June 18, 2020

Local Doctors: Parents are waiting too long to bring kids to ER

By Laura Byrne

We know that COVID-19 is still very much present in our community, but it should not be a reason to avoid seeing your doctor. In fact, local emergency room doctors are noticing many parents are waiting too long to bring their children in who have suffered serious injury…and that can result in further complications.

We’re chatting with Dr. Juan Carlos Abanses, an emergency physician at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital’s Steinbrenner Emergency and Trauma Center about the steps they are taking there, along with the pediatric ER at St. Joseph’s Hospital-South and Mease Countryside Hospital, to protect young patients and help ease parents’ concerns.

He’s also telling us more about what you can expect if you have to go to St. Joseph’s Children’s ER and what types of injuries they’re seeing the most. He’s also telling us more about what you can expect if you have to go to the Children’s ER and what types of injuries they’re seeing the most.

The good news…there have been no positive cases of COVID-19 among the doctors and nurses at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital’s ER and no one has contracted the illness in the ER.

What is St. Josephs’ Children’s Hospital doing to protect patients and families?

I think one of the big things for them to understand is that we have taken lots of precautions from the very beginning of COVID to try to keep patients separated who may have COVID symptoms from other patients.

And we have done lots of stuff to clean the emergency department, we have special machines that use UV light, we wear special gowns and masks and have procedures for patients who have COVID-like symptoms so we have lots of different precautions we are using that go along with the CDC criteria and we started initiating those from the very beginning of COVID.

So, one of the big fears is will my child be exposed and the reality is probably not. We are actually very safe. It’s probably much safer than going to the supermarket.

Have you had any COVID cases diagnosed among staff?

We have not had any nurses or doctors test positive because we are taking such stringent requirements as far as when we go and take care of those patients.

As far as the experience, what is is like now if you have to bring your child to the emergency department?

We created a triage tent so that as soon as you get into the parking lot, they start to separate in the parking lot immediately whether patients have COVID symptoms or not. And then anyone with COVID symptoms, we try to keep them from going into the lobby area and try to get them directly back to rooms. We did a lot of that initially and we’re still doing that, but that’s the initial point of contact right there.

You are saying that you all have noticed parents are waiting too long in some cases to bring their child to the emergency room. Can you talk about what you’re seeing?

Especially with appendicitis is one of the big ones. For example, a child will have appendicitis, they have a little bit of abdominal pain, the parents are scared to come in and then by the time they come in, the appendix has ruptured and they are sicker and have to be on antibiotics for a longer period of time.

We’re seeing a lot of other ones. We’re seeing a lot of patients where kids have broken their arm or their leg who have fractures and don’t come in on a timely manner as well.

We are also seeing more kids coming in late with lacerations because parents will wait and see, oh do I really need to get it sutured and what we find is that they are waiting too long. We normally like to stitch kids up, if they need stitches, within that first 8 to 12 hours. After that, it’s been there too long and there’s an increased risk of infection which can cause more scarring.

Other things have been seizures. Because seizures can be caused by a bunch of different things and many of them are very urgent. So in kids who don’t have a seizure disorder who have nuance seizures, we want to figure out early…hey, why are they having the seizures and is this something we can treat or prevent or do something with to make sure that child does not continue to have seizures throughout the night.

We’re seeing head injuries also. Head injuries —if children fall and hit their head, not all head injuries need to come to the emergency department, but any kid who was knocked unconscious, or has vomiting or headaches are getting persistently worse instead of better, we worry about those. We worry about the potential chances of having a bleed.

Just out of curiosity, what are the types of injuries you are seeing now as our current lifestyles are very different. How can we better watch out for our kids?

We are seeing a little bit more of ingestions because kids are running around the house and they accidentally pick up a pill that dropped on the floor because they are inside the house for longer period of time.

One of the big things we have seen is we’ve seen an increased number of drownings and near-drownings. One of the reasons, I think, is that kids are home a lot more and parents are having to work from home and sometimes their attention my lapse for a moment and a child can get out within a minute or two.

It’s really important to have a fence that goes completely around the pool -that even if they get out through a slider or through a door, they still can’t get into the pool. And there’s a pool alarm so if the child does get in, you know that they are in there.


  • If you can’t find your child in the house, always check the pool first. Every second counts.
  • Also, we we spend more time in the water this summer, make sure that a parent or other adult is designated to watch the kids closely while in the water.

Watch our interview with Dr. Abanses:


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