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Parts of Idaho return to crisis standards of care

St. Luke's health system in Boise, caring for COVID-19 patients.
St. Luke’s Health System
Doctors and nurses treating COVID-19 patients at St. Luke’s Health System in Boise.

Health organizations in three regions of Idaho are once again allowed to ration care due to “severe” staffing and blood shortages.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare announced the decision Monday morning to activate crisis standards of care for Central District Health, South Central Public Health District and Southwest District Health.

Virus Outbreak Hospital
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen authorized hospitals statewide to use crisis standards of care if needed as many are buckling under the weight of an influx of COVID-19 patients.

Saint Alphonsus Health System requested crisis standards of care be activated statewide, which was also the recommendation of the Crisis Standards of Care Activation Advisory Committee.

But IDHW Director Dave Jeppesen made the decision to limit activation to the southern and central parts of the state. Jeppesen gave no reasoning in a press release about his decision to divert from the committee’s recommendation.

“Once again, the situation in our hospitals and health systems is dire – we don’t have enough resources to adequately treat patients,” he said in a statement.

Jeppesen urged people to get vaccinated and a booster shot against COVID-19. Jeppesen also encouraged people to wear a “high-quality protective mask in public places” to stem the spread of the highly-contagious Omicron variant.

State officials said they will offer more details about the decision Tuesday afternoon at a press conference.

Widespread infections among health care workers and a national staffing shortage have left Idaho hospitals struggling to maintain their capacity to treat patients.

A national shortage of blood products has also spurred health care systems to ration their supply, according to IDHW.

With the Omicron surge, Idaho continues to set – and break – daily records for the number of new cases, with a backlog of more than 37,000 positive tests waiting to be reviewed by public health districts.

While Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness – especially among the vaccinated – its ability to spread more easily has led to a dearth in hospital capacity across the country.

According to the latest data available, 491 people have been hospitalized in Idaho with COVID-19 as of Jan. 19. Of those, 91 were in the ICU.

Not all hospitals in these affected regions are required to implement crisis standards, though they have the option to do so if needed.

Five counties in North Idaho began rationing care Sept. 7, while the rest of the state followed suit little more than a week later on Sept. 16.

Jeppesen rescinded crisis standards for most of the state on Nov. 22, though they remained in place for Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, Kootenai and Shoshone counties until Dec. 20.

Since that lull in late December, the fast-spreading Omicron variant has pushed Idaho’s test positivity rate to record highs of 34.1% from Jan. 9-15.

Hospitals around the state already have a backlog of hundreds, if not thousands, of surgeries not deemed life-threatening,even if a patient’s condition is excruciatingly painful.

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. If you have a tip, please get in touch!