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Kootenai Health remains in crisis standards of care despite staffing support

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 15, 2021

In this Sept. 10, 2021, photo, an emergency department sign is photographed at Kootenai Health, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  (Young Kwak/Associated Press)
In this Sept. 10, 2021, photo, an emergency department sign is photographed at Kootenai Health, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. (Young Kwak/Associated Press)

Twenty-five handwritten letters.

That’s what the critical care nurses at Kootenai Health did for a COVID-19 patient who refused to go on a ventilator.

The patient was too weak to write letters with goodbyes to family and friends, so the nurses did it, said Emily Farness, a nurse at the Coeur d’Alene hospital.

The patient went into comfort care and eventually died from the virus.

“It’s hard to take that on emotionally,” Farness told reporters on Wednesday.

Farness and her colleagues at Kootenai Health have recently received some backup from contracted federal workers who will fill open nursing, medical assistant and respiratory therapist jobs along with nonclinical positions.

Joan Simon, chief nursing officer at Kootenai Health, said 70 workers from ACI Federal, a federal staffing agency, have arrived to help at the Coeur d’Alene hospital.

Kootenai Health has about 500 job openings, including 280 jobs for clinical care staff.

Even with the agency workers and help from a Department of Defense team, Kootenai Health will remain in crisis standards of care until COVID cases decline, Simon said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 108 COVID patients being treated for the virus at Kootenai Health, including 33 in the intensive care unit.

Kootenai Health opened additional space for COVID patients in its resource center, a large conference center that had been used for education, but now has nine COVID patients.

“The surprising thing is how many patients we see on a daily basis,” Dr. Robert Scoggins, medical director of the ICU at Kootenai Health, said.

The hospital is admitting 10 to 15 COVID patients every day.

The hospital has yet to see the expected surge of patients who would have contracted the virus at the North Idaho Fair and at local schools, where students are not required to wear masks, Scoggins said.

With Kootenai Health having slightly fewer COVID patients than last week and with additional staffing support, the hospital is accepting more transfers from outlying areas.

Scoggins said the hospital has caught up on some of the more urgent surgeries that were postponed.

Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 continue to be younger, and the vast majority are unvaccinated, caregivers at Kootenai Health said.

Farness described treating people who are her peers and those in the community who thought they were healthy enough to beat the virus without a vaccine.

She has treated patients on ventilators who thought COVID-19 was all political or a hoax or just not that bad. They say, “I didn’t think it’d be me sitting in this bed,” Farness said.

Some of those COVID patients she treats in the intensive care unit are sending texts to their family members and friends telling them to get vaccinated.

Farness said something she hears often is that people believe if they eat healthy, take care of themselves and exercise, they’ll be fine.

That’s all great, she said, but it’s not enough to stop the spread of the virus.

She asked community members to wear masks in public, get vaccinated and stay home when they’re sick.

“This is affecting our whole community,” she said.

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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