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Most of Idaho exits crisis standards of care

Crisis Standards Civil Rights Complaint
Kyle Green
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AP
In this Aug. 31, 2021, file photo, Dr. William Dittrich M.D. looks over a COVID-19 patient in the Medical Intensive care unit at St. Luke's Boise Medical Center in Boise, Idaho.

After more than two months, most of Idaho is out of crisis standards of care.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare announced Monday it had deactivated crisis standards of care for the majority of the state.

The Panhandle Health District, which includes Boundary, Bonner, Kootenai, Benewah and Shoshone counties, will remain in crisis standards of care.

COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations in that region, and especially at its largest hospital Kootenai Health, are declining, but continue to exceed health care resources available, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said during a media briefing Monday.

In a statement, Karen Cabell, DO, the chief physician executive at Kootenai Health, said the hospital is “cautiously optimistic” about the downward trends, but there are still 58 COVID-19 patients being treated at the facility, and just under half of them are requiring critical care. This month alone so far, there have been 33 COVID-19 deaths at Kootenai Health.

The two health districts in North Idaho entered crisis standards of care on Sept. 7, amid a surge in largely unvaccinated COVID-19 patients needing critical care. One week later, the designation, which allows facilities to ration health care such as ventilators, ICU beds and staff time in a public health emergency, was expanded statewide.

Idaho remained in crisis standards of care for nearly 70 days.

COVID hospitalizations have been declining statewide since early October which means hospitals could gradually stop caring for patients in surge units and could send staff back to their normal assignments.

Though southern Idaho has exited crisis standards of care, doctors Monday said the health care systems there are still being stressed.

“To be clear, we’re still in a contingency position. We are very busy,” said Dr. Jim Souza, chief executive for St. Luke’s Health System.

There are still a lot of patients in local hospitals with COVID. About one in five patients at St. Luke’s now is there with COVID-19; about 40% of people in the ICU are COVID patients.

It’ll also take a long time to work through a backlog of roughly 7-8,000 postponed surgeries. Souza worries the delays in care will accumulate in a surge of “sub-optimally-managed chronic disease” that local health systems will have to address.

Then there’s the fact that health leaders aren’t sure what to expect from future COVID waves. Souza expects this won’t be the last surge the state faces.

“We hope it’s the worst one,” he said.

With about 56% of people 12-and-over fully vaccinated, a sizable portion of Idaho’s population remains extra vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19, so doctors emphasized the best way to prevent the worst outcomes from future surges is to get vaccinated and get a booster dose.

“We are really pleading with everyone to do their part so we don’t have this momentary relief and then go right back into a bad situation again,” said Dr. Patrice Burgess, the executive medical director at Saint Alphonsus.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio