Idaho Falls Community Hospital ICU ICUIF4

The intensive care unit at Idaho Falls Community Hospital is near capacity as COVID-19 cases surge in east Idaho.

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The entire state of Idaho is already under a formal hospital resource crisis.

But hospitalizations from the virus are not letting up, and state officials expect record-setting COVID-19 metrics will continue to rise.

“The numbers continue to increase, and we expect them to continue to increase,” state health department Director Dave Jeppesen told reporters on a media conference Tuesday.

About 95% of staffed adult intensive care unit beds in the state are full, federal data shows. Nearly two-thirds of staffed adult ICU beds are filled with COVID-19 patients, the data shows. About 68% of all inpatient beds are full, according to the data, and COVID-19 patients are taking up one-third of beds.

There were 717 patients being treated for COVID-19 in Idaho hospitals on Sept. 16, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. That is the highest that number has ever been, and up 107 from a week earlier. Hospitalization records have been continually broken lately. On that same day, 187 patients were being treated in Idaho intensive care units.

It has been less than a week since Jeppesen declared the entire state to be in a hospital resource crisis, allowing for rationed health care. The move let hospitals use the Crisis Standards of Care plan.

It didn’t take long for the crisis to affect him personally.

Jeppesen’s mother had a stroke Thursday morning, hours after he declared Idaho’s hospital crisis. She was treated in the hospital and discharged that same day, he said. Normally, patients in her condition would be monitored overnight in the hospital.

“We are so lucky to have such talented health care professionals in Idaho, and those same dedicated health care professionals across the state need our help,” he said, appearing to fight back tears. “They need the unvaccinated to please consider choosing to get vaccinated. The vaccines work. They are safe and effective. And they need all of us to please wear a mask indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces.”

Gov. Brad Little on Tuesday announced $10 million in aid for health care facilities under pressure from the state’s surge of COVID-19 patients.

The aid was directed toward hospitals, primary and urgent care clinics and nursing homes.

“We have taken many steps to preserve access to healthcare during the pandemic, and this latest round of support will help ease the burden on our hospitals and healthcare heroes right now,” Little said in a news release.

Little sent up to 370 personnel to north Idaho hospitals earlier this month. The health districts there entered Crisis Standards of Care in early September, more than a week before the statewide declaration. The state has also temporarily waived licensing fees for retired or inactive nurses — a move that is hoped to ease the process of re-entering the workforce.

The Crisis Standards of Care plan gives hospitals legal guidance and protection for providing scarce health care with too many people in need of treatment. According to the plan, scarce and potentially life-saving treatment can be rationed with a focus on saving those with the best chance of living — in hopes of saving the most lives possible.

Not all hospitals are actively using the hospital crisis plan. And it isn’t immediately clear which have used it. Jeppesen said the state is not polling hospitals on their decision to use the plan, and that hospitals can decide whether to publicly disclose or not disclose that they are using the plan. Rural hospitals could, for instance, only use the plan for a few hours before resuming normal levels of operation, Jeppesen said, and then head back into using the plan.

Health officials have asked people to avoid activities that could result in hospitalization but said people in need of treatment should still seek care.

Dr. James Souza, chief physician executive for St. Luke’s Health System, said the hospital system has seen 80 deaths from COVID-19 in September alone. And younger people are dying, he said. Combined, the deaths this month represent 1,100 lost life-years, based on typical lifespans, he said.

“Can you imagine?” Souza said. “For the people who say we all die sometime, yes, we do. But these people didn’t need to die now. And they didn’t need to die like this.”

The vast majority of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Idaho hospitals are unvaccinated. At St. Luke’s, 90% all COVID-19 hospital patients and 98% of COVID-19 ICU patients are unvaccinated, Souza said.

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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