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Idaho faces a shortage of nurses, health care professionals during coronavirus pandemic

Who will be left on the front lines to take care of the sick and the rising number of coronavirus patients?

BOISE, Idaho — COVID-19 is spreading throughout the state, with 300 to as many as 500 new cases being added to the state total every day.

But what happens when it spreads to our health care workers?

On Saturday, West Valley Medical Center in Caldwell had to divert patients away due to staffing and capacity issues. While this is no longer the case, there is no certainty that it will not happen again.

Betsy Hunsicker, CEO of West Valley Medical Center in Caldwell, said on Wednesday that while they're not in a crisis mode yet, they are on a "scary trajectory."    

"So today we're doing okay, but in a week or two weeks, if we don't do something to sort of flatten things out, I'm not sure how we'll be able to manage if the trends continue," Hunsicker said.

Hunsicker said over the last month, one-third of their employees who have been out ill have tested positive for COVID-19

Over the last month, Hunsicker said about 17 employees have tested positive.

"Most of them were out in the community, they had family members at home that were positive, or they were at a gathering and later found out someone there was positive," Hunsicker said. "So I would say the majority of people have been exposed out in the community."

As a number of employees have tested positive, staffing has become a challenge at the medical center. Hunsicker said it can be challenging to fill in shifts for those who have tested positive because nurses are not trained to work in every department of the hospital.

The strain of low staffing is also taking a toll on the nurses, according to Hunsicker.

"We've had to ask people to pick up extra shifts and so they're working a lot of extra shifts, they're working long shifts," Hunsicker said. "We work really hard to try to not load people up, but I think people have maybe been taking a bigger workload than what they typically do."

Despite the staffing limitations, Hunsicker said her top priority is ensuring that the employees feel safe and know they have the resources they need to do their job.

"I want to make sure that they have the right amount of staff and the right amount of personal protective equipment and that they're able to do their jobs in a way that they feel good about and they feel safe doing so," Hunsicker said. "We have a wonderful team of people here and they want to take good care of our community here and so I just want to stress the importance of really social distancing, wearing your mask, making sure that you're doing your part to prevent the further spread."

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