Children are at risk of what some of Canada’s top children’s hospitals are calling a “looming health crisis” as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds.
While children have been resilient in terms of COVID-19, experts warn of mental, physical, and developmental problems that could arise from delays and isolation caused by COVID-19.
Alex Munter, CEO of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), tells CTV News that the pandemic has made an existing problem worse.
“Children and their families have borne a big impact from this pandemic, and it’s been an unseen impact,” Munter said. “Children have lost school and daycare, friends and social supports, many have lost access to therapy or health-care and we really need to focus on kids and families as governments plan the recovery.”
Munter said wait times were already long for important things like access to mental health services, developmental services like speech therapy or surgeries, like eye surgery, that can affect a child’s ability to learn and communicate.
“Too many kids were already waiting too long for the care that they need; for the therapy that they require,” Munter said. “What’s happened now is we’ve had four months where we’ve really had to ramp down and, as we ramp back up, we won’t be going back to full capacity because of all the extra measures and extra protections that are required.
“The bottom line here is that kids were already waiting too long before the pandemic. If it takes us a year or 18 months to clear those waitlists, we’re talking about really intolerable waits in terms of the impact on children’s lives and children’s emotional, physical and mental well-being.”
Other pediatric hospitals have similar worries.
In a press release, Dr. Ronald Cohn, President and CEO of the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto said the pandemic has caused many problems for children.
“Heightened anxiety, lack of social supports, loss of routines, social isolation: these are just a few of the indirect adverse effects of COVID-19 impacting the mental, developmental and physical health of children and youth,” he said. “Fear of contracting COVID-19 is causing some families to delay seeking necessary routine and sometimes urgent medical care, which can have serious consequences. It is time to focus on the health and well-being of our children.”
Munter is calling for additional government support for children, families and children’s health-care.
“As government looks at the recovery plan, kids and families need to be at the centre. That means back to school and back to childcare. Those are important supports for families,” he said. “That means investing in children’s health, whether that’s in mental health or children’s hospitals, to make sure kids don’t wait too long. Every day matters in the life of a child.”