Respiratory Syntactical Virus (RSV), influenza and yet another wave of COVID-19 are all three circulating in Wichita, filling hospital beds and pushing pediatric units to their limit.

RSV is especially hard on infants under 6 months, who are too small to blow their nose and often require a nasal saline rinse and manual suctioning to remove the mucus that plugs their airway and makes it hard to breathe.

At Ascension Via Christi St. Francis Hospital, home to the city’s only remaining suctioning clinic, is “really hopping” said Dr. Amy Seery, who provides physician oversight for the pediatric nurses who work in that clinic.

“There used to be suctioning clinics all over town,” she said. “Then came COVID-19 and the suctioning clinics were such high risk to providers that they all closed. We’re the only one left, and we do want everyone in our community to know that this resource is still out there.”

The clinic provides a short cut to allow parents to bypass the Emergency Room when their baby needs help. The process starts when a medical provider identifies a child who would be a good candidate for care at the clinic. The provider gives the parent a brochure and a prescription to visit the clinic. Then, for the next four days, they can visit the clinic as often as necessary, bypassing the ER and going directly to the pediatric floor.

“The very first time they come in, they need to go through check-in at the admissions desk or the ER desk so we get an electronic chart created. Then after that, they just come straight to the clinic. And if the baby gets sicker, it can be taken right from the clinic to a hospital room,” Seery said.

She said the cost of suctioning clinics is covered by most insurance, including Medicaid. For those parents paying out of pocket, the clinic is $80 for as many visits as needed over the four days.

Seery also reminded parents that babies six months and older can be vaccinated against both COVID and influenza.

“I can’t urge strongly enough that people get vaccinated and have their children vaccinated,” she said. “We also urge vaccines for pregnant women because the antibodies they develop pass on to the baby and offer protection for about six months.”

There is currently no vaccine available against RSV, but two are in development and expected to be approved in the next several months. They will be offered first to senior citizens, who are most likely to develop severe or fatal complications.

P.J. Griekspoor is a semi-retired veteran journalist with 55 years experience in writing and editing in Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina and Wichita.  She spent 18 years at the Wichita Eagle...