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News >  Spokane

Kootenai Health officials working on plans to transfer patients as critical care unit fills

UPDATED: Tue., July 21, 2020

Kootenai Health photographed on Tuesday in Coeur d’Alene.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
Kootenai Health photographed on Tuesday in Coeur d’Alene. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

Kootenai Health’s critical care unit is full, but it’s not because of patients with COVID-19.

Four patients with COVID-19 are being treated in the unit. Another 22 patients are in the unit for other medical reasons.

If there is a surge in COVID-19 patients in North Idaho that needs critical care, Spokane hospitals have ample intensive care unit beds available – at least for now, hospital officials say.

Hospital officials in the region are working on a plan for which patients (COVID or otherwise) will be sent to other hospitals, but it was not finalized on Tuesday evening. A spokeswoman for Kootenai Health said those plans were expected to be completed on Wednesday.

Kootenai Health has 330 hospital beds. The critical care unit requires more intensive work on the part of health care workers, and the facility is experiencing staff shortages, asking nurses to work extra shifts using incentives to ensure there is adequate staffing.

There were 23 patients with COVID-19 receiving treatment in the hospital on Tuesday, 19 of whom are not in the critical care unit.

Katherine Hoyer, spokeswoman for the Panhandle Health District, said that residents of all ages have been hospitalized for the virus.

“We’ve had people under the age of 18 who have been hospitalized related to COVID-19 and people up to their 90s, so we have a very a broad range of people hospitalized,” Hoyer said.

Kootenai Health is challenged by the same “bottleneck” other hospitals are faced with when treating COVID-19 patients.

It is difficult to find continuing care once hospitalization is no longer necessary, especially if an individual needs to go to a rehabilitation facility or return to their long-term care facility.

Some facilities that care for the elderly, for example, are not accepting COVID-19 patients, said Andrea Nagle, a spokeswoman with Kootenai Health. Without a proper place to send patients, hospitals cannot discharge people, which leads to beds being occupied that others might need.

The Panhandle Health District reported 60 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and health and hospital officials expect hospitalizations to continue to increase. The county has a total of 1,283 confirmed cases, with the majority of cases reported in Kootenai County. Bonner County also has nearly 100 confirmed cases.

“If our cases continue to increase like they’re doing now – we’re not seeing a slowdown – we do predict there will be more hospitalizations and, unfortunately, we would never wish it to happen, but we do expect more deaths to come, too,” Hoyer said.

One person has died due to COVID-19 in the Panhandle Health District.

Spokane-area hospitals have a combined 1,531 patient beds, and about 840 are now being used, including 53 to treat patients with the coronavirus.

Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Providence Holy Family Hospital have capacity to care for both COVID and non-COVID patients, but there is not a defined number of patients the hospitals can accept.

Earlier this month local hospital officials explained that “capacity” is not accurately defined by number of beds but instead by the number of health care workers who can take care of patients with the proper equipment. There are surge plans in place, which could mean that other procedures, like elective surgeries, would need to be postponed.

The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 88 new cases of COVID-19 in Spokane County on Tuesday, bringing the total to 2,890. The health district estimates that 43% of those cases are in residents who have recovered .

Curbside testing at Garfield Elementary and Willard Elementary this week and next week was canceled by the health district due to hot weather and road construction. Testing is available at various clinics and locations countywide, including testing for those with no insurance at CHAS clinics.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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