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The viral illness crisis that slammed CHEO last fall is receding, but the pediatric hospital continues to see more children and youth in need of mental health care than ever before.

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“While the rates of respiratory illnesses are stabilizing, the demand for mental health services remains very high,” the hospital said in a statement Tuesday.

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The needs of the children it is seeing for mental health treatment are also more complex than in the past.

“While CHEO is again providing emergency and inpatient care to all children and youth, CHEO Mental Health is often at or above capacity.”

Three months after adult hospitals in the region stepped in to care for 16- and 17-year-olds, CHEO says it now has the capacity to provide emergency and inpatient care to all children and youth, including 16- and 17-year-olds.

The move, last fall, was aimed at taking pressure off the pediatric hospital as it coped with an unprecedented surge of viral illness, especially among younger children. CHEO was forced to open a second intensive care unit and patients and their families faced long waits in emergency for care.

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Having adult hospitals see many older youths, took some of the pressure off CHEO, which is mandated to treat children and youth up to 18.

In a release Tuesday, CHEO thanked hospitals in Ottawa and the region for helping and said the pressures it faced during the fall with unusual high and severe rates of viral illnesses “are now stabilizing.”

A so-called tripledemic of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), influenza and COVID-19 battered CHEO and other pediatric hospitals who were not only seeing unprecedented demand for care but higher levels of young children being hospitalized because they were having trouble breathing.

COVID-19 cases increased in Ottawa in recent weeks, although there are signs that the surge might be slowing, but influenza and RSV have peaked and demand for treatment is stabilizing.

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The respiratory viral season began earlier this year than usual and, after several pandemic years with limited viral activity, was more severe, prompting a debate about its cause.

Families can visit 1Call1Click.ca for mental health services provided by community and CHEO. The hospital also provides information on its website with resources for non-emergency care.

The respiratory viral crisis at CHEO highlighted the fact that it is under-capacity to serve the population and the complexity of health issues it is now seeing. The province has invested money to expand its critical care, mental health and emergency capacity, among other things as part of what the hospital calls “right-sizing” pediatric healthcare.

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“We look forward to continuing this work with them in 2023 so we can ensure that kids and families have timely access to medically necessary care. Every day matters in the life of a child,” said the hospital statement.

The hospital also thanked patients and families, staff members and others.

“CHEO is grateful for the patience, support and understanding of our community, including kids, families, staff and medical staff, who have all shown extraordinary resilience during this viral surge. It hasn’t been easy for anyone. We deeply appreciate everyone’s understanding and collaboration.”

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