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This McCall doctor is heartbroken over the unvaccinated, worried about Idaho blood supply

Dr. Patrick Kinney
St. Luke's Health System
Dr. Patrick Kinney is the acting chief of staff at the St. Luke's McCall Medical Center

Dr. Patrick Kinney, who spends many of his days and nights in the E.R. at St. Luke’s McCall Medical Center delivering babies, has had to face the sadness of watching patients die due to COVID-19.

He's also seen three primary stages of COVID vaccines.

The first stage, Kinney says there was the process of educating patients, and then there was the stage of acting as what he called “vaccine cheerleaders,” to convince the public of the vaccines’ efficacy. The third stage has been especially difficult, particularly for the unvaccinated.

“I’d see them when they were gasping for breath. I’d see them when the first thing out of their mouth was, ‘I’m so sorry, Dr. Kinney. I made a mistake. I should have done this,’” said Kinney. “You know, that … that was the hard part.”

Kinney visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the current status of the pandemic and how a significant blood shortage has led much of the region to return to Crisis Standards of Care.

“We have been told that if we use that blood, there is a good chance that we will not have it replenished, at least not replenished in the time that we are normally expected.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. In the shadow of another surge of infections of COVID-19, state health officials have reactivated crisis standards of care for public health districts in South-west and -central Idaho. We get regular updates from providers in the Treasure Valley. This morning, we will spend some time with a provider on the front line in McCall. Dr. Patrick Kinney is here. He spends many of his days and nights in the E.R. at St. Luke's McCall. He's a family physician and… well, he has the privilege and amazing skills where he also brings life into our world. He gets to deliver babies… as well as care for people at all stages of their life. Dr. Kinney, good morning.

DR. PATRICK KINNEY: Good morning, George. Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate being on.

PRENTICE: You have, as I mentioned, the joy of seeing life at first glance; but sad to say, you have also had the challenge of watching some people leave this world all too soon… passing due to causes linked to this pandemic. That must be a pretty difficult reconciliation for you.

KINNEY: George, it is one of the things I really love about my job is I do get to see both ends of the spectrum, I get to see life arrive and sometimes on the same day my job. I primarily work in the emergency room now, but I still have some limited outpatient clinic and take care of babies to, I think, my oldest patient is 102. I work in the emergency room, and I work in the hospital in McCall. You know, this has been just a fascinating couple of years for me. It's changed so much. You know, early on there was so much fear and uncertainty, and we were doing a lot of educating patients as we were trying to educate ourselves about the pandemic. You know, then we moved into the vaccination phase, and we became a source of information for people as they were trying to make their decisions on how to get vaccinated and what kind of vaccine they should get. Mm hmm. And then we moved into the kind of vaccine cheerleader phase where vaccine uptake kind of stalled and a lot of us were confused. Why are we having this reluctance and resistance to get over 55, 60 percent vaccination rate? And so, you know, I'm working with people in the community trying to convince them of the importance of this. And sometimes there was a lot of pushback and a lot of anger from people. And sometimes I was successful, convincing them to get vaccinated because of the relationship that we had and the trust that we had over the years. Sometimes I wasn't. But the times that I wasn't, quite frequently, I would end up seeing these people again. It wasn't the end of the story for me. I'd see them in the emergency room when they came in sick. I'd see them when they were gasping for breath. I'd see them, when the first thing out of their mouth was, “ I'm so sorry, Dr. Kinney, I made a mistake. I should have done this.” You know… that… that that was the hard part. I was sorry, too. I feel like maybe I could have done a better job, or maybe I could convince them better. But here they are sick. And now we move into this phase of the pandemic where we're still, you know, still seeing a lot of illness in the community. So, seeing so many people record numbers of people testing positive and being on home quarantine and shipping people still to the ICU, people are still dying. I had a patient die in front of me this Sunday from a giant blood clot related to COVID. And it has been a road. It has been an emotional and difficult road for everybody, and I've kind of seen it at every step of the way as we go here.

PRENTICE: We've been hearing a lot about blood supply, so tell us what you can about your blood supply at St. Luke's McCall.

KINNEY: So, we are allocated blood from the American Red Cross through the St. Luke's system, and it was just in the last week or two that I've been apprized that our blood supply. Currently, we are well stocked. We have a blood bank in McCall of somewhere between 18 and 20 units, and we have that right now. Butwe have been told that if we use that blood, there is a good chance that we will not have it replenished, at least not replenished in the time that we are normally expected. If we use two three units of blood for an obstetrical hemorrhage or a GI bleed or a trauma. You know, normally we get that up here within a couple of days to replenish our blood bank for the next patient. We don't have any blood on the horizon for the next week, maybe for the next couple of weeks. And so, one patient, one bad trauma, one bad obstetrical hemorrhage. They can go through our blood bank and McCall pretty rapidly. And because of the nationwide shortage, we may not get that back anytime soon. And that's an uncomfortable position to be in. It's an unprecedented position to be in,

PRENTICE: And there's urgency to this because McCall, this week and next, is the winter carnival and your community will see some of the most people it hasn't seen in quite some time.

Dr. Patrick Kinney
St. Luke's McCall
Dr. Patrick Kinney

KINNEY: That's right, George. We love Winter Carnival in McCall, except for the people that hide out at home and hate Winter Carnival, but much more. That's right. Most of us love it. I love it. I got young kids who love looking at the ice sculptures and participating in the events. But it's a challenge in McCall Winter Carnival, and I think any resort community experiences. This certainly is a big issue in McCall. Huge population influxes. So, we have to be able to have an organization that can survive and function when we're just at our base population. Think mud season on either side of winter when we're caring for a much smaller, permanent local population, but then be able to cope with an influx of people on the Fourth of July weekend on Winter Carnival weekend, where we'll see fifty thousand visitors over the course of the weekend. And so, in terms of staffing both nurses, doctors and all the ancillary people that work in the hospital in terms of physical space, you know, we have a five bed E.R., and those beds get filled up pretty quickly. And then we see big extensions in our wait time and seeing patients in the hallway and the waiting room and kind of a triage type situation and seemingly small changes in staffing and the number of patients that we get hit with. Over a six-hour, eight-hour period makes a huge difference for us because we're small, we don't have the ability as well as a bigger facility like Meridian or Boise to absorb those boxes. And so, you know, two or three nurses call out sick. They can handle that in the valley, and we can handle it here. We do our absolute best people. You know, it's a small town. People chip in. They come in on their days off. They come in and work when they're not scheduled to. But it's much harder to keep the ship afloat.

PRENTICE: Dr. Kinney, with so many visitors adding to the numbers in McCall, could you remind us… well, it isn't to hard to be safe, is it?

KINNEY: It isn't, George,

PRENTICE: There are things that are within our reach.

KINNEY: I'm going to reply to this in two ways. I mean, in terms of COVID specifically, you are right, it is not that difficult to be safe. And what I would say is this is not the weekend to come to a call. If you're feeling sick, OK, if you already have COVID symptoms, if you have a fever and a cough and you feel a little short of breath and you're thinking about maybe coming up into the mountains and gaining three thousand feet of altitude and the cold winter air is going to be good for you, it's probably not. So, stay home if you're sick. Also, if you're here in the community, you know, just try to try to help protect the locals. Wear your mask when you're out and about. Avoid inside closely densely packed, poorly ventilated areas where wear a mask, please wear a mask, and it doesn't necessarily need to be an N95. Although those are best, any kind of barrier is helpful. And, you know, think about getting vaccinated. Even one shot helps two or three shots is definitely better. But the vast majority of people that we're seeing end up in the hospital in McAllen and elsewhere are unvaccinated and under vaccinated people. So, yeah, so in terms of COVID specifically, just use those layered mitigation strategies that we've all been talking about for the last couple of years.

There's a whole different part of this, though, and that is we strain and stretch and McCall to take care of our visitors on any winter carnival weekend and COVID is adding additional pressure. We have we had a record number of COVID admissions in the hospital here in McCall. Five of our 12 beds at one time were taken up by COVID folks, and so that affects everybody else. The broken legs, the knees, the heart attacks, the strokes. And so, I think when you come to McCall this weekend, think about being safe. I mean this this is not the time to take your great grandma to the tubing hill and see how she does on the way down the hill. This is not the weekend in McCall to go on beer runs on your ATV or snowmobile. It's not the weekend in McCall to where your beautiful stiletto heels out on the ice to look at the ice sculptures. This is this you've got to be safe. You put on your squirrels and your yak tracks and be safe because we're going to do our absolute best to care for anybody that comes into our emergency room. But our capacity is strained right now, and so be safe out there. You guys enjoy. Enjoy the weekend but make it a safe one.

PRENTICE: Well, it's timely for us to mention that there will be a blood drive this week.

KINNEY: Yes. Yes, I believe February 1st and 2nd. The American Red Cross. They're going to be operating out of the Elk Creek Church on 55. But honestly, I would tell your listeners anywhere in the state, blood donated anywhere helps everyone. So, all of this blood for Idaho goes through the regional Red Cross in Salt Lake City, and it gets processed and screened for infectious diseases and all the stuff that they do to make sure we have the safe blood supply that we have. And then it's reallocated across the Intermountain West. And so don't come to McCall to donate blood to help McCall donate blood anywhere, wherever you are as soon as you can. And this is a nationwide problem that we're trying to address.

PRENTICE: It's no secret that I lived in McCall for a while and a big piece of my heart is still there with you. It's a pretty amazing community.

KINNEY: McCall's awesome. I mean, I am so grateful every day that I get to live here and take care of the people that live here. It's a nuanced community full of working blue collar folks and extremely well-to-do folks that fly in on the weekends and everything in between. But we look out for each other. We we're a close knit, amazing community, and I'm really grateful to be here.

PRENTICE: He is Dr. Patrick Kinney, caregiver extraordinaire…he and his colleagues at St. Luke's, McCall, Dr. Kinney hang in there, have a really good week and thank you so very much for giving us some time this morning.

KINNEY: You are so welcome, George. Thanks for having me.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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