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Crisis Standards of Care were not in use Thursday in eastern Idaho, but area hospitals were still burdened by the latest wave of COVID-19 patients.

Hospital administrators relayed their facilities constraints to Eastern Idaho Public Health’s board Thursday morning, slightly more than an hour after the state was declared to be in a hospital resource crisis. The regional health board did not consider issuing new mandates, similar to last month when officials bristled at the suggestion of restrictions.

Hospital administrators described coping with rising loads of both regular and COVID-19 patients.

At Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, total patient census counts are up 42% from last year, said Rachel Gonzalez, CEO of Madison Memorial Hospital in Rexburg. She spoke on behalf of the three hospitals in eastern Idaho with intensive care units.

Dr. Kenneth Krell, an intensive care doctor at EIRMC, said the hospital has sometimes opened up room in alternative spaces like the infusion center to treat ICU patients. But like in hospitals across the state, the thing that decides how many people can be cared for is staffing levels.

“But to some extent, it doesn’t matter how much space we open up when we don’t have staff to take care of them,” Krell said.

In eastern Idaho, many hospitals are full but have not used Crisis Standards of Care, Jordan Herget, CEO of Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello, said during a separate hospital media conference. He said hospitals are at risk of using the plan if COVID-19 trends continue.

Coronavirus infections have climbed sharply in eastern Idaho. The health district’s seven-day moving case average rose to 100 on Tuesday, up 69% from the start of the month.

The size of eastern Idaho’s outbreak has also begun to catch up to the state’s, the Post Register found. The region’s per capita infection rate is now a little less than three-fifths of the state average, but in late August it was only half the state’s rate, the Post Register previously reported.

There were only two intensive care unit beds free on an average day last week between two hospitals in Idaho Falls, according to federal data. On average, 27.6 beds were occupied daily in Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center’s ICU with 29.4 staffed beds. At Idaho Falls Community Hospital’s ICU, with 10.9 staffed beds on average each day, 10.4 beds were full, the data says.

In the week before Labor Day, there were three staffed ICU beds available on an average day.

Idaho has added more than 1,200 new COVID-19 cases each day over the past week, state data says.

Officials have asked people to avoid activities that could result in hospitalization. Even though hospitals are filling up, hospital administrators and officials still encourage people to come to the hospital when they need care. Krell worries that people will delay seeking needed care.

“What worries us all as clinicians about instituting Crisis Standards of Care is that we’ll see a return of what we saw last winter, which is patients were avoiding necessary acute care because they were either frightened of hospitals or thought that hospitals simply couldn’t take care of them,” he said.

Krell gave a message to unvaccinated people, using a patient who waited too long as an example.

“Consider the patient I intubated yesterday who said, ‘Oh, I decided I was going to get vaccinated sometime in October,’” Krell said. “We don’t have time to wait. Please get vaccinated.”

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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