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Idaho Avoids Rationing Care As COVID-19 Admissions To Largest Hospital System Dip

St. Luke's Health System

Idaho’s largest hospital systems predicted they might need to ration health care before the end of 2020, but they haven’t reached that point yet.

COVID-19 admissions are down significantly in the St. Luke’s Health System. Dr. Laura McGeorge, medical director for primary and specialty care at St. Luke’s, said the hospital system saw a peak of infected patients in mid-to-late November. 

“We are definitely in a better spot than we were then,” she said in an interview last week, “and are not looking at crisis standards of care at this time.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations across the St. Luke’s system were down more than 60% at the end of the year compared to early December. The difference was not as stark in the Saint Alphonsus Health System where doctors were caring for 98 COVID-19 patients on Dec. 1 and 74 on Dec. 31, a decrease of about 25%. 

St. Luke's is also caring for a large number of patients through its remote patient monitoring system. Last week, physicians were checking in with 200 of these patients — both with COVID-19 and with other health issues — remotely. 

Because of the decrease in hospitalizations, the health system announced last week it will resume admitting pediatric patients to the hospital in Twin Falls. Magic Valley children needing to be hospitalized had been transferred to the children’s hospital in Boise since late October, when the Twin Falls hospital paused those admissions to free up more staff to work in the COVID-19 units.

As for starting up elective surgeries again, most of which St. Luke's has put on pause since November, McGeorge said that will be evaluated on a weekly basis.

Health leaders are grateful to the community for taking mitigation efforts to heart, McGeorge said, but hospitals are not out of the woods yet because they haven't seen the effects of holiday gatherings. 

“Typically, when people gather, it’s somewhere between two and four weeks after that that we’ll really start to see hospital bumps," she said.

And though St. Luke’s hospitalization numbers were looking better by the end of the year, federal data shows hospitals in North Idaho and eastern Idaho were still being hit hard.

Kootenai Health was caring for about 80 COVID-positive patients each day the week of Christmas and Idaho Falls Community Hospital was at about 95% ICU capacity. 


Follow Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen for more local news.


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