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'Overwhelmed' Pediatricians Balance Increased COVID Testing, Staffing Shortages

BOSTON (CBS) - When 14-month-old Liam isn't feeling well, his mother Heidi Chang says she's had to get creative when it comes to seeing his pediatrician.

"We have a lot of back and forth with her," Chang said. "We do a lot of phone sessions or stuff like that or we just email the pediatrician. I think they are so overwhelmed they don't really want us to come in if it's not that big of a deal."

"It's a tricky time right now for us pediatricians. Our offices are being overwhelmed," said Dr. Scott Hadland, Chief of Adolescent Medicine at Mass General Hospital. "It's almost certainly because of COVID. If it's not COVID itself causing kids to get sick it's the worry about having COVID and we are here to help families navigate it all."

Pediatricians are finding themselves balancing seeing sick kids, COVID testing, vaccinations, and staffing shortages.

"The demand for sick visits and the demand for kids to come in and get COVID testing has increased enormously," Dr. Robyn Riseberg, the Founder of Boston Community Pediatrics, explained.

A big reason, kids are finally back in school.

"Now everyone is back together, and kids are getting sick and they need to be seen and because of COVID and because kids under 12 can't be vaccinated everyone needs to get tested," Dr. Riseberg said.

And this is when the phones, start ringing.

"Parents and children are being put in difficult positions where if they are experiencing symptoms, they often need a formal COVID test to be cleared to go back to work or school," Dr. Hadland added.

Whether it's COVID or the fear of having COVID, pediatricians say the only way to know, is to get tested.

"There is so much need and people are back to work and back to school and trying to fit everything in and it's so hard to do," Dr. Riseberg said.

Opening in the middle of the pandemic, Boston Community Pediatrics had to tailor some of their practices anyway.

"We've rearranged our schedule so we are doing COVID testing every day from 4-5 outside of our building and we put sick kids at the end of the day so we aren't mixing sick and well kids together," she said.

This, in addition to exam rooms with windows and coupling telehealth appointments with testing.

"We know that having the access to your provider and your pediatrician is so important right now because they are nervous and they are worried about their kid," Riseberg added.

"I want to be really clear any time a parent or child themselves is worried and wants to see a doctor, they absolutely should see a doctor. This is what we are here for and even though we are very busy, we are doing what we can," Dr. Hadland said.

An overall solution right now coming two-fold.

"One, on the short term, I would encourage parents to show us some grace we are working really hard," Dr. Hadland added. "My longer-term advice is that parents and really all individuals 12 and up should get vaccinated."

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