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Crisis standards activated for southern Idaho health systems

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 24, 2022

By Rebecca Boone Associated Press

BOISE – Idaho public health officials activated crisis standards of care for much of southern Idaho on Monday, citing major staffing and blood supply shortages.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare activated the crisis standards for the southwest, central and south central health districts, which encompass 18 counties including the Boise, Nampa and Twin Falls metro regions. Crisis standards of care allow hospitals to triage health care as needed when they don’t have the capacity to deal with patient influxes.

“The highly contagious Omicron variant has thrown us a curve ball,” said Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen in a statement. “Once again, the situation in our hospitals and health systems is dire – we don’t have enough resources to adequately treat patients.”

It marked the second time amid the pandemic that Idaho officials have authorized health care rationing. Northern Idaho was the first part of the state to be allowed to do so last September, with the rest of the state following suit 10 days later. The crisis standards were fully deactivated by December.

There are currently high numbers of health care staffers unable to work because they or family members have contracted or been exposed to COVID-19, and traveling nurses and other contract health care providers are harder to come by because so many other states are also dealing with staffing shortages.

A nationwide shortage of blood products is also hurting healthcare systems, according to the state health department, forcing many to implement blood conservation strategies.

The decision to activate crisis standards came in response to a request on Friday from Saint Alphonsus Health System, which has hospitals in Boise and Nampa as well as in eastern Oregon.

Jeppesen brought the request to the state crisis standards activation advisory committee, which recommended that crisis standards of care be activated statewide. Jeppesen opted to only make the designation for southern Idaho, but said other regions of the state will likely be added if current COVID-19 infection rates continue.

Idaho has been experiencing its largest coronavirus surge since the pandemic began, but exact numbers are difficult to determine because the state’s tracking system is struggling to keep up with the flood of new cases.

There were 1,945 new cases reported to the state on Saturday, but another 37,400 positive lab tests from the past two weeks were still waiting to be reviewed and added to the statewide numbers, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s COVID-19 dashboard.

According to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, 1 of every 102 Idaho residents tested positive for the virus over the past week.

Jeppesen urged residents to get vaccinated against coronavirus and to get booster shots and to wear high-quality masks when in public places.

“Omicron is so much more contagious than previous variants, and even though a lower percentage of cases are ending up in the hospital, the record number of cases is still putting strain on our health care system,” Jeppesen said.

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