Children's Hospital Association asks Biden for federal support as pediatric COVID-19 cases rise

pediatrician with mask
Children's hospitals have faced not just an increase in COVID-19 cases but also a major mental health crisis. (Getty/FamVeld)

The Children’s Hospital Association is directly pleading with President Joe Biden to help their facilities strained by an influx of pediatric COVID-19 cases.

The group sent a letter to Biden on Thursday (PDF) that said the pediatric health care system is especially strained now due to major losses caused by the pandemic. They are asking for more support including the release of provider relief funding and approval of the COVID-19 vaccine for children under 12 years old.

“Children’s hospitals are reporting high demand and staffing challenges,” the letter said. “With pediatric volumes at or near capacity and the upcoming school season expected to increase demand, there may not be sufficient bed capacity or expert staff to care for children and families in need.”

The association detailed several crises children’s hospitals are facing. Chief among them are additional challenges in non-COVID-19 care.

“A national children’s mental health crisis, well underway before the pandemic, has been exacerbated significantly by the disruption of social interaction and daily routines of school and family life experienced through the pandemic,” the letter said. “Layer on the financial stress on families and COVID-19 illness and death, and the existing mental health capacity in inpatient outpatient settings across the nation is being overwhelmed by children presenting with serious and severe mental and behavioral health needs.”

RELATED: Children's Hospital Colorado sounds alarm on 'unsustainable' spike in pediatric mental health cases

Children’s hospitals are also worried about an impending wave of cases of other viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus. Infection rates and severity could rise as “children reengage after the extended isolation of the past year,” the letter said.

Facilities are facing the same workforce issues as other hospital systems, which have combated burnout and higher expenses for temporary staff.

But pediatric care requires more specialized training from staff and different types of equipment and drug dosing.

“The combined COVId-19 and behavioral health pandemic has increased work stress and ‘burn out,’ which was already a major challenge to recruitment and retention,” the letter said. “With staff rethinking their careers and greater competition for the remaining talent, children’s hospitals are reporting shortages which are exacerbating capacity constraints.”

The association pushed for stronger masking and vaccination guidance and is seeking to address such strategies at the local and state levels.

“We ask you to continue to prioritize the development and rollout of a vaccine for children under 12 years of age, so all children have the opportunity for virus protection,” the association said.

At the same time, immediate support is needed to handle the higher staff costs, “specifically the release of provider relief funding and any other federal workforce support that can be quickly distributed and targeted to pediatric crisis response.”