Northern Idaho hospitals’ crisis standards of care have now been expanded to the entire state.
Following a surge in COVID-19 infection and hospitalizations, all Idaho hospitals are now in triage mode, prioritizing treatment for patients with the best chances of survival. Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare announced the emergency expansion Thursday following a request by St. Luke’s Health System of Boise, the state’s largest hospital network.
The majority of Idahoans are unvaccinated, and they are filling hospital beds nine times more than vaccinated residents at facilities like St. Luke’s, The Associated Press reported. At 40%, Idaho has the third-lowest vaccination rate in the country, trailed only by Wyoming and West Virginia.
“The situation is dire: We don’t have enough resources to adequately treat the patients in our hospitals, whether you are there for COVID-19 or a heart attack or because of a car accident,” Idaho Department of Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said in statement.
Crisis standards of care mean ventilators and other scarce resources are prioritized for patients who are most likely to recover. The key goal is to save as many lives as possible.
Vaccinations are also proven to save lives, Jeppesen said, as he urged residents to get the vaccine, wear masks and avoid crowds.
One in every 201 Idaho residents tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week as of Thursday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. More than 1,300 new coronavirus cases were reported to the state on Wednesday, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
Hospitalizations have skyrocketed. On Sept. 13, the most recent data available from the state showed that 678 people were hospitalized statewide with the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care unit beds has stayed mostly flat for the past two weeks at 70 people each day, suggesting the state may have reached the limit of its ability to treat ICU patients.
Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, which serves as a regional facility for patients from Teton County needing a higher level of care, said it won’t make immediate changes to hospital operations as a result of the statewide announcement.
“If it does become necessary for us to make decisions around prioritizing treatments, we will do so in accordance with established CSC guidelines,” public information officer Coleen Niemann said in a statement.
“We hope we can avoid that difficult decision,” she added.
Niemann called the correspondence “an alarming reminder of the seriousness of the health crisis.”
Wyoming residents are already feeling the impact of Idaho’s COVID surge. St. John’s Health in Jackson is monitoring the situation “day by day,” said Karen Connelly, the hospital’s chief communications officer.
The capacity loads at partner hospitals, and specifically at Eastern Idaho, mean St. John’s staff are making additional calls to find a specialty care center for patients.
“We’re really concerned,” Connelly said. “They’re great partners but there’s no guarantee.”
Bed capacity changes rapidly at St. John’s and other institutions, requiring near constant monitoring and additional time and attention from staff who are already overworked.
Connelly said coordinating transfers is becoming more difficult by the day.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.