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'We have exhausted our resources': Crisis care standards activated in North Idaho as COVID-19 soars

Officials say the vote to activate crisis standards came amid a "severe shortage of staffing and available beds" and a "massive increase" in COVID hospitalizations.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare activated crisis standards of care for hospitals in North Idaho Tuesday morning after a surge in COVID-19 cases left too few hospital beds and medical personnel to care for all the sick.

In the hard-hit region, which has Idaho's lowest rates of vaccination against COVID-19, someone struggling to breathe may no longer get a ventilator. Someone badly hurt in a car wreck or accident may no longer get a bed in the hospital. Someone near death from illness may receive only "comfort care" as hospital staff use limited medicine and life-saving equipment on patients likelier to pull through. 

The grim activation came after a request from Kootenai Health, which has warned for weeks that the hospital is being overwhelmed by a wave of desperately-sick COVID-19 patients. 

“We have reached an unprecedented and unwanted point in the history of our state. We have taken so many steps to avoid getting here, but yet again we need to ask more Idahoans to choose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine," Idaho Gov. Brad Little said. "More Idahoans need to choose to receive the vaccine so we can minimize the spread of the disease and reduce the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, many of which involve younger Idahoans and are preventable with safe and effective vaccines." 

More than 95% of COVID-19 patients in Idaho hospitals are unvaccinated. 

IDHW officials say the vote to activate crisis standards of care came amid a "severe shortage of staffing and available beds" and a "massive increase in patients with COVID-19 who require hospitalization."

Under crisis standards, hospital beds, medicine, and equipment like ventilators may be allocated to those deemed most likely to survive, with the goal of saving as many lives as possible under extraordinary circumstances.

“Crisis standards of care is a last resort. It means we have exhausted our resources to the point that our healthcare systems are unable to provide the treatment and care we expect,” said DHW Director Dave Jeppesen. “This is a decision I was fervently hoping to avoid. The best tools we have to turn this around is for more people to get vaccinated and to wear masks indoors and in outdoor crowded public places. Please choose to get vaccinated as soon as possible – it is your very best protection against being hospitalized from COVID-19.”

North Idaho is the first region to put crisis standards in place, although doctors in the Treasure Valley have warned repeatedly that those extreme measures could be put in place statewide if Idahoans do not act to stem the tide of infections. 

"It's beyond time for all of us to pull together. Your decision on getting vaccinated or using other mitigation affects many others," Sen. David  Nelson (D-Moscow) said Tuesday. "Our hospitals are full. Staff is overwhelmed. Please get vaccinated today."

Hospitals will implement their own crisis standards as needed, according to Health and Welfare. The hospitals and health systems affected are listed below. 

Panhandle (PHD1)

  • Benewah Community Hospital
  • Bonner General Hospital
  • Boundary Community Hospital
  • Kootenai Health
  • Shoshone Medical Center

North Central (PHD2)

  • Clearwater Valley Hospital and Clinics
  • Gritman Medical Center
  • St. Joseph Regional Medical Center
  • St. Mary’s Hospitals & Clinics
  • Syringa Hospital & Clinics

For more information, click here.

At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.

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