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Emergency officials say they aren’t resuming spring plans for COVID-19 field hospitals

Emergency officials say they aren’t resuming spring plans for COVID-19 field hospitals

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Minidoka Memorial Hospital

Supplies are seen in Suite 19 on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, at Minidoka Memorial Hospital in Rupert.

BOISE — As Idaho hospitals take on more and more COVID-19 patients, local health care leaders say they’re bracing to potentially move patients to nontraditional facilities in the coming weeks while state emergency officials say they’re not yet looking to mobilize “alternative care sites.”

In a City of Boise news conference Tuesday, Dr. Steven Nemerson, chief clinical officer for the Saint Alphonsus Health System, said Saint Al’s is preparing for its patient load to triple in the next two months barring radical changes in community behavior around mask wearing and social distancing.

“… Within the next four or five weeks, by Christmastime, we expect a doubling of the census of COVID patients within our hospitals,” Nemerson said. “And then within two months from now, approximately a tripling thereof. That’s the point at which we then begin to take care of patients in areas of our facilities that are not traditionally used for clinical care, things like conference rooms, and so forth. God forbid we get to that situation, but we’re prepared to do so.”

It’s a scenario that officials planned for back in the spring, when Idaho’s Office of Emergency Management was meeting with FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to scout out its alternative care sites, sometimes referred to as field hospitals. At the time, the team reached out to Boise State University about potentially bringing patients to the school’s facilities. Other large venues, like the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa and Idaho IceWorld skating rink, were potential options, too, the Statesman reported.

On Tuesday, Office of Emergency Management spokeswoman Janice Witherspoon told the Statesman in a phone interview that alternative care sites are “not really on the table right now.”

“It’s a tool that we always have in the tool belt,” Witherspoon said, adding that FEMA and the Army Corps “continue to be partners.” A spokesman for the Army Corps’ Walla Walla District told the Statesman it has not been involved in any emergency hospital capacity plans in Idaho since the initial collaboration this spring.

Witherspoon said establishment of alternative care sites is “very fluid” and would depend on the crisis situation at hand. She said she could not speak to Nemerson’s statement that the hospital is preparing to use conference rooms and other spaces for patient care. So far, no Idaho hospitals have reported activating crisis standards of care — rationing health care because there is not enough equipment or staff to treat all patients.

“We know the tools for individuals to be prepared,” Witherspoon said. “Face masks, washing hands and keeping social distance.”

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