In The ER, Kids Waiting Longer To Get Care

Fifteen-year-old Chris Osborne, left, who has asthma said he went to the emergency room after his parents couldn't pay a bill at the doctor's office. Osborne is being treated by Dr. Edward Barksdale, chief of pediatric surgery at the Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland.
The economic crisis has devastated many Americans, and now it may be threatening the health of one of our greatest resources -- our children.

As part of a network-wide special series "CBS Reports: Children of the Recession," Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton went to ground zero of this crisis: the emergency room.

In Cleveland, Dr. Edward Barksdale, chief of pediatric surgery at the Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, told Ashton the emergency room is busier than as people wait to seek care.

"Our volumes in the emergency room are up," he told Ashton. "I think we're also seeing diseases in their later stages."

Too many patients, he said, can't go to the doctor's office, and end up coming to the ER instead, like 15-year-old Chris Osborne, who has asthma.

"We went in for a doctor's appointment," Osborne said, "and couldn't go because of a bill that we had to pay so -- that's why we're here now."

Osborne had a large lung cyst removed last year. Since Chris's father was laid off from his sheet metal job, his family struggles to afford health care -- and has delayed getting care for Chris.

"The cyst that I had, it's a cyst that can grow back if I don't have follow-ups through college, so it could affect me if I'm not here today," he said.

Nationwide, 44 percent of children's hospitals are reporting increases in ER visits this year, according to the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions. At Rainbow Babies and Children's in Cleveland, she said, traffic is up in the ER, yet the population of children in northeast Ohio is down.

But babies sluch as Hailey Sarubbi, who was born at 23 weeks and weighs just over a pound, are struggling to survive -- just like their parents.

Sarubbi's mother went into premature labor after working seven days-a-week to make ends meet.

"If a mother has to work extra hours, who has a high risk pregnancy, we are increasing the burden of health and disease," Barksdale said, "but not maximizing the potential of children."

Sarubbi's mother hopes her daughter's treatment will be covered by Medicaid.

But the latest data from The Children's Defense Fund shows that one-in-nine children lacks health insurance coverage.

That was the case for 17-year-old Teauna Boysaw, who didn't have health coverage when she came into the ER, doubled over from pain from an infected pilonidal cyst.

"This (cyst) has been bothering her for like two weeks now," Boyshaw's mother Tara Hagar said. " ...I tried, you know, putting warm compresses -- we tried the home remedies, you know? But it wasn't working. It wasn't working at all."

Hagar, who is a nursing assistant, couldn't afford the $550 monthly fee to insure her children.

"If we had insurance, we could have gone to the doctor; he could have given her some antibiotics, and maybe it could have been cured," Hagar said. "Now, it's gotten further to where she had to have surgery again. ...It's really hard."

Boysaw said, "I hate to see my mother crying, and I hate to see her struggling. ...I'm scared to grow up, because I don't really want to struggle, but I know I'm going to have to just to make it."

Barksdale, who is working 15-hour days -- nearly 90 hours a week -- said he has to be an advocate for children in this recession, waging war against disease and the recession.

"I think of myself as being a warrior for children," he said, "and children don't have the voice that adults have."

Our special coverage continues Tuesday night on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, as we explore the psychological impact of the recession on children.