Community Hospital COVID-19 (copy)

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare announced Nov. 22, 2021, that Crisis Standards of Care was being lifted in all regions of Idaho except the Panhandle Health District. In this Dec. 7, 2020, file photo, staff talk about a patient being treated in the intensive care unit for COVID-19 at Idaho Falls Community Hospital.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare deactivated Crisis Standards of Care in most regions in the state freeing up access to hospital care for many who were waiting for medical treatment.

The health department announced in a Monday media briefing it was lifting Crisis Standards of Care in all health districts except the Panhandle Health District, where COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to exceed the health care resources that are available.

“Crisis Standards of Care was a decision all of us were hoping to avoid,” said Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen. “It’s a decision of last resort.”

The standards were activated on Sept. 16. Under Crisis Standards of Care, people in Idaho experienced longer wait lines into emergency rooms, care in makeshift rooms or were transferred to other facilities that had available space. As a result, many people in the state had surgeries and other medical procedures delayed.

Jeppesen said he convened the Crisis Standards of Care Activation Advisory Committee on Nov. 19 to review the situation at health care facilities across the state. The committee determined health care systems had moved back to contingency operations except for those in the Panhandle Health District and Jeppesen issued the decision to lift crisis standards Monday morning.

While most health care facilities in the state have exited crisis standards, Jeppesen noted they are still in contingency care and operations continue to be stressed with high patient volumes. The state will continue to provide resources including health care personnel through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and federal contracts, he said.

“It will be some time before health care systems return to full normal operations. It will also take time for the health care systems to work through the many delayed surgeries and other medical treatments,” Jeppesen said.

The health department held the media briefing with representatives from the St. Luke’s Healthcare System and Saint Alphonsus Health System. Dr. Jim Souza, chief physician executive for St. Luke’s, said this was not a signal of “mission accomplished” and urged people to keep taking precautionary measures.

“We don’t believe this will be our last surge of COVID. We hope it’s the worst one,” Souza said.

Souza added that he expects crisis standards to have negative effects for many people who have had to hold off receiving medical treatment, particularly for people who are suffering from chronic diseases. Additionally, he said there could be another statewide spike in influenza based on the state seeing a high number of influenza cases in the summer.

Weekly COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC is projecting an increased national spike of COVID-19 cases in December.

There were 52 COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Eastern Idaho Public Health District on Friday, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard. A high number of those patients, 87%, are unvaccinated. Cases in the district are on an uptick from the 28 total cases that were reported on Nov. 14.

Health care officials who participated in the media briefing urged people to get vaccinated if they have not done so and are able to. Dr. Patrice Burgess, executive medical director for Saint Alphonsus Health System said higher vaccination rates and other precautionary measures will keep the state from entering Crisis Standards of Care again. She also encouraged vaccinated individuals to get a booster shot if enough time has passed to receive one.

“We know for a fact that these vaccines are safe and we know that they keep people from being seriously ill, being in the hospital and dying from COVID,” Burgess said.

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