McMaster University

McMaster University

An emergency department for children only pays off for the whole community

Opinion Editorial
Hamilton Spectator
Lennox Huang
April 5, 2011

What care is the best for our children?

Healthy children and teenagers are different from adults. As a society we care for our most vulnerable members by providing education, food and shelter. We do our best to give them stable homes. As parents and family members, we always want the best for our children, and their health is no exception.

As a pediatrician, I know that the needs of sick children and teenagers are also different from grown-ups. Kids are not just "little adults." Their bodies are constantly growing and developing, they are affected by different problems, and they require treatments tailored to their specific needs. As health care professionals we recognize these differences by having specialists in children's care and dedicated children's hospitals.

The emergency department is an essential part of a busy hospital. When people are injured or fall ill and need immediate care, emergency departments provide life-saving treatment and connect patients to the right specialists. In a general emergency department, children may be exposed to a violent environment where adults are suffering from severe injuries and illnesses.

When it comes to TV or movies, we try to avoid exposing children to these inappropriate images. We should do the same in real-life. Children's emergency departments are designed to be family friendly. Research and experience tell us that when children are seen in a child-only emergency room, they are more likely to get the optimal treatment, and parents are more likely to be satisfied with the care their child receives.

Hamilton has been one of the only communities of its size in Canada and the United States without a children's emergency department. Just under two years ago, we began to direct patients in the McMaster emergency department into two streams — children and adults. Since starting our dedicated emergency stream for kids, we've attracted more than eight new children's emergency doctors from around the world. These doctors treat children in the emergency department, teach students, and conduct important research on child health.

On a typical day, more than 60 children are seen in the children's emergency department at McMaster. This number has been steadily growing over the past year and we've been working hard to meet the needs of our community.

On April 4, changes at McMaster University Medical Centre will mean that adults will no longer be seen in this emergency department. Renovated and expanded emergency departments offer full-service care at Hamilton General Hospital, Juravinski Hospital and St. Joseph's Healthcare. This change will allow us to continue to expand and serve the children of not only Hamilton, but the surrounding region as well, a population of about 600,000 children and youth.

I joined McMaster Children's Hospital seven years ago and became a Hamiltonian. My mission was simple — to improve the health of our children through clinical care, research and teaching.

As a pediatric specialist I have taken care of children in all areas of the hospital including our emergency department. Our patients and families constantly tell us about the difference McMaster Children's Hospital has made in their lives. As a doctor and as a father of a young child, I sleep better at night knowing that we have a team of pediatric professionals in the emergency department ready for anything that comes their way.

Some people may question investing in children's health in an aging demographic. As a city, we have committed to making Hamilton the best place to raise a child. While children make up approximately 25 per cent of Hamilton's population, they are 100 per cent of our future.

Lennox Huang is chief of pediatrics, McMaster Children's Hospital.

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