BOISE, Idaho — As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to increase, the Idaho National Guard is preparing to relieve some of the stress loads from healthcare workers. Gov. Brad Little activated hundreds of Idaho National Guard members to help health care facilities and their growing patent intake.
"We have more patients coming in now with COVID and other conditions but we are prioritizing the most urgent and others that are less urgent will have longer waits," said Dr. Steven Nemerson, the chief clinical officer at Saint Alphonsus. "They will eventually be seen but waits will be longer."
Nemerson and other healthcare leaders around the Treasure Valley shared a message Thursday that's been repeated multiple times in the last several weeks, Idaho hospitals are overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases. Little warned Tuesday, the state's healthcare system is 'teetering on the brink' of implementing crisis standards of care.
"Our healthcare system is not designed to withstand the prolonged strain caused by an unrestrained global pandemic, it's simply not sustainable," Little said at a press conference.
The danger of reaching the capacity for hospital and ICU beds prompted Little to activate up to 150 Idaho National Guard members to help.
"Our personnel will perform tasks that alleviate that stress from Idaho's healthcare providers allowing them to focus on delivering the best health care possible to Idahoans," said Lt. Col. Christopher Borders with the Idaho National Guard.
This will be the third time the National Guard has been brought in to help Idaho hospitals during the pandemic. They were also activated last April and November to help with several tasks, like managing the flow of drive-up testing and vaccination sites, among other duties. The National Guard was able to provide resources in all health districts around the state last year.
"We bring a very wide array of capabilities," Borders said.
Along with helping health care facilities, Borders said the guard has already had a busy year because of their help with wildfires this summer. They keep in close contact with the governor and his staff, so there was a feeling there would be a call again soon.
The National Guard is now awaiting their assignments from the Idaho Office of Emergency Management, which is collaborating with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and the Idaho Hospital Association to decide what resources are sent where and how much is sent.
"That's all based on need and then the availability of whatever that resource is," said Natalie Shaver, the public affairs officer for Idaho Office of Emergency Management. "If it's staff, it's how many people we have available to go and assist the places in need."
The three agencies will review the request for assistance for health care facilities. These requests are sent in from local health districts and tribes.
Central District Health told KTVB they have already received requests from four major health care partners in the Treasure Valley.
An additional 200 medical and administrative personnel will be made available to Idaho through a contract with the U.S. General Services Administration.
In addition to the guard members, a 20-person Department of Defense medical response team will be deployed to North Idaho, where vaccination rates are among the lowest in the state and hospitalizations are soaring.
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