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Hospitals again warn of ‘stressed’ capacity in Idaho’s ICU and COVID-19 units
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Hospitals again warn of ‘stressed’ capacity in Idaho’s ICU and COVID-19 units

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Health care providers tend to a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center. With a surge in coronavirus cases this fall, more Idahoans are becoming seriously ill from COVID-19. Dozens of them are in ICUs around the state each day.

BOISE — There were 110 people hospitalized in Idaho’s intensive care units in the days after Thanksgiving. That surge continued as this week began, with ICUs and COVID-19 units filling up.

Saint Alphonsus Health System on Monday night had 104 patients with COVID-19 in its hospitals — about 26% of all its patients admitted that night. St. Luke’s Health System had 139 patients with COVID-19 on Monday night — about 28% of the 501 people hospitalized that night. Some were in COVID-19 ICU beds, while others were in COVID-19 units.

Dr. Bart Hill, St. Luke’s Health System vice president and chief quality officer, said Tuesday that St. Luke’s hospitals are “stressed” but managing.

“And when I say stressed, we’re not doing normal operations,” he said. “People who need health care, but not urgently, are being delayed. The staff are working tremendously hard. And it’s still very difficult.”

Hill said there were eight ICU beds in the health system’s Treasure Valley hospitals: four in Boise, three in Nampa and one in Meridian. But patients coming out of emergency surgeries were destined for a few of those.

He said St. Luke’s ICUs were between 38% and 94% full, and floors with COVID-19 patients were 60% to 88% full.

Saint Al’s was “doing good” on ICU beds across its four hospitals on Tuesday afternoon, said Jennifer Misajet, vice president of operations for Boise and regional chief nursing officer.

When the ICU there hits 80% capacity, it triggers an overflow plan to open space in other units. “We have not hit the (threshold) where we had to open new space this morning,” she said.

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“It’s really dynamic, it changes pretty frequently depending on who’s coming in the door,” she said.

Hospitals will start to see the effect of Thanksgiving holiday gatherings starting in a week or two, Hill said.

But even before that, Idaho hospitals are stretched thin.

Nine out of 51 Idaho hospitals last week told the federal government they anticipated a critical shortage of staff by this week. Five said they were already at that point.

There were only six open ICU beds across the Lewiston, Coeur d’Alene and Spokane hospital region on Tuesday morning, officials from St. Mary’s and Clearwater Valley hospitals said.

Eastern Idaho hospitals that report coronavirus data to were in somewhat better shape. They had 17 ICU beds open as of Tuesday, about 30% of their capacity, according to the website.

Health systems, doctors, nurses, public health officials and medical leaders have warned for weeks that Idaho cannot handle a large influx of sick patients on top of the existing surge. They pleaded with Idahoans to stay home, avoid travel, wear masks and keep distance from people outside their household.

Before the pandemic, Idaho hospitals did not frequently hit capacity. That was by design. Hospitals need have enough beds open to ensure room for the unexpected car crashes, severe infections, heart attacks, strokes and major surgeries that occur in a community.

The number of patients needing intensive care fluctuates, as does the number of nurses trained to provide specialized care for those patients.

Idaho’s coronavirus surge has pushed those limits, with severely ill patients who spend days or weeks in the hospital, as the hospital’s own staff are out with COVID-19, in quarantine or caring for sick family members.

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