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Rationed health care 'imminent' in Boise, Twin Falls regions, top official says

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Dave Jeppesen

Dave Jeppesen, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, speaks with members of the media during a press conference at the Idaho Capitol on June 11, 2020.

Hospitals in the Treasure Valley and Magic Valley could soon be rationing scarce health care resources if COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise, a top Idaho health official said Tuesday.

“The reality is without a course change we will be entering Crisis Standards Care soon in those areas,” Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen told reporters in a news conference.

He said hospitalizations in Southwest District Health, Central District Health and South Central Public Health District “are reaching a critical point.”

“Without a change in direction, Crisis Standards of Care are imminent for all three of those health districts,” Jeppesen said.

On Labor Day, Jeppesen activated the state’s hospital disaster plan, known as Crisis Standards of Care, for hospitals in north Idaho. He has warned for weeks that Idaho hospitals are “dangerously close” to statewide rationed care. He said Tuesday that a crisis declaration could be isolated to a region or encompass the entire state, depending on the situation.

“Just to be clear, Crisis Standards of Care affect all of us, not just COVID patients. There are already many patients who had to delay surgeries or other treatments. And during Crisis Standards of Care, tough decisions are made for how to allocate scarce medical resources,” he said.

Jeppesen said everyone should be careful and “reconsider activities that could land you in the hospital.” He encouraged people to take the COVID-19 vaccine and to wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor places.

The remarks come after another disastrous week for COVID-19 measures. He said COVID-19 hospitalizations, ICU use by COVID-19 patients and ventilator use have all risen.

About 89% of Idaho’s intensive care unit beds were full Tuesday, according to federal data. The same data from the Department of Health and Human Services says COVID-19 patients used 57% of staffed adult ICU beds in Idaho hospitals and 20% of all inpatient beds across hospitals.

Idaho’s top public health researcher Dr. Christine Hahn said “more and more” hospitals have told state officials that “they do not have enough staff to open up more ICU beds.”

There were 613 patients being treated for COVID-19 in Idaho hospitals on Sept. 13, according to state data. That is the highest that number has ever been. Hospitalizations have regularly been setting such records lately. On that same day, 172 patients were being treated in Idaho intensive care units. The vast majority of people who contract COVID-19, get hospitalized with the virus or die from it are unvaccinated.

“The numbers continue to increase, they continue to increase at an alarmingly fast rate, and we do not see a peak in sight,” Jeppesen said.

Coronavirus cases in Idaho teenagers, aged 13 to 17, rose to 630 last week, the highest rate ever seen, said Dr. Kathryn Turner, one of Idaho’s top public health researchers. Compared to other age groups, cases are rising fastest among Idaho teens, she said. She said the rise in cases in younger children are “not far behind.”

Meanwhile, deaths from the virus have shifted from predominately older people last year to younger people this year, she explained. Less than one in 10 coronavirus deaths occur in people aged 18 to 49 years old, data she provided shows, but the rate has more than doubled from April to this month compared to the same time period last year.

In Idaho so far, more than 235,000 residents have contracted COVID-19 and at least 2,485 have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic, state data shows.

Idaho has added more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases each day over the past week, according to the Post Register’s tracking of state public health data.

Idaho’s seven-day daily case average hit 1,182 on Monday, state data indicates. The Gem State’s case rate has grown by nearly 51% this month and about 1,613% since July 1, when the state was adding only 69 new cases each day.

Hahn said a monoclonal antibody treatment center will open Wednesday in north Idaho. The state recently received an application for a center that is planned for eastern Idaho, she said. Hahn announced that the federal government is limiting the amount of the antibody treatment that each state receives, but she seemed hopeful that plans can continue for a Treasure Valley center.

“On first glance, it appears that we have enough to continue the good work, including some expansion,” Hahn said. “... I think we do have enough and are not having to deny or reverse any of the progress that’s been made.”

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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