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Idaho hospitals ‘over capacity’ and in need of volunteers

Aug. 24, 2021 Updated Tue., Aug. 24, 2021 at 9:49 p.m.

Idaho hospitals are surging with both COVID and non-COVID patients, and state health officials asked any volunteers who are able to return to the health care workforce to do so as the delta variant sweeps through the state.

Patients in some parts of the state are having to wait to be transferred for care, according to Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen.

The director walked through a Treasure Valley intensive care unit that was so full that another wing had been converted into more ICU space.

There are more COVID patients in Idaho ICUs than ever in the pandemic, Jeppesen said.

“We are dangerously close to crisis standards of care,” he added.

Idaho reconvened its advisory committee on crisis standards of care in the event that a hospital reaches the point where it needs to make decisions about who gets to be treated inside its walls.

Kootenai Health, the largest hospital in the Panhandle, is treating 91 patients for the virus, and a third of them require critical care.

On Tuesday, Kootenai Health tied its peak number of COVID inpatients, with the same number of patients as in December.

Patients admitted with COVID-19 now are sicker, younger and require more oxygen than patients did during the winter surge, however.

Kootenai Health had to install a new, larger oxygen tank at the hospital on Tuesday in order to keep up with the demand in patients who require it to stay alive.

Hospital capacity is tight everywhere in the Inland Northwest, making typical transfers incredibly difficult, especially as COVID surges are happening in both Washington and Idaho.

Kootenai Health is not accepting transfer patients at this time, and staff who were working on elective procedures have been reassigned to COVID care.

Jeppesen said that one rural hospital could not find a bed to transfer a patient to Tuesday morning, indicating how tight the state’s hospital capacity is.

“We are over hospital capacity right now,” he said.

Staffing, much like in Washington, remains a challenge for health care facilities.

“We need volunteers in health care settings across the state; we have hundreds of open positions in one health care facility alone, and we’re hearing that throughout the entire state,” said Elke Shaw-Tulloch, Idaho’s public health administrator.

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have tripled in the Idaho Panhandle in August, and case counts continue to climb.

The silver lining, Jeppesen said, is that the state’s vaccination rate is also increasing .

In the Panhandle, 43.5% of eligible residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

In the current COVID surge, 97% of patients at Kootenai Health were not vaccinated against the virus.

Health officials asked Idaho residents to get vaccinated, as well as wear masks, to keep its hospitals open and curb the surge.

A look at local numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District reported 326 new COVID-19 cases and three additional deaths on Tuesday.

There have been 722 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents.

There are 184 people hospitalized for the virus in Spokane.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 121 new cases and no additional deaths on Tuesday.

There are 99 Panhandle residents hospitalized with COVID-19.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories 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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