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Idaho health officials lift crisis standards of care statewide

Intermountain Healthcare

After more than three months, Idaho health officials have deactivated crisis standards of care for the state’s five northernmost counties.

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen authorized crisis standards for Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, Kootenai and Shoshone counties Sept. 7 after hospitals there were overrun with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.

Crisis standards of care were then implemented statewide one week later.

Those standards allowed hospitals to prioritize who would – and who would not – receive care. Surgeries, even those for excruciating and painful conditions not deemed life-threatening, were postponed.

Jeremy Evans, Chief Regional Operations Officer for Kootenai Health, the largest hospital in North Idaho, said things still aren't back to normal.

They have a staffing shortage and patient protocols aren't back to their pre-pandemic versions.

“But we’re no longer placing patients in overflow areas or dramatically reducing the number of staff caring for patients at one point in time,” Evans said.

Kootenai Health now treats between 40 to 50 COVID-19 patients per day, down from 150 per day at the height of the surge, he said.

The region has the lowest vaccination rate in the state, with just 41% of those eligible fully vaccinated.

Statewide, it’s 51%, while more than 70% of the U.S. is fully vaccinated.

That could leave the northern part of Idaho more susceptible to new variants, like omicron, which now makes up 73% of new coronavirus cases in the country.

Evans said Kootenai Health is also working through a backlog of about 1,800 delayed surgeries or invasive procedures that were postponed due to crisis standards of care.

“That is a significant need in the community and we want to get back to being able to serve all our patients, not just those who are in an emergent or urgent scenario or a COVID patient,” he said.

State health officials lifted crisis standards in most of the state last month, but they left them in place for those five northern counties.

Jeppesen said in a statement that the department is closely watching developments of the Omicron variant.

“Omicron seems to spread more easily between people, and we all need to keep taking precautions against COVID-19 by getting vaccinated or getting a booster dose, wearing masks in crowded areas, physically distancing from others, washing our hands frequently, and staying home if we’re sick to avoid overwhelming our healthcare systems again,” he said.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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