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St. Luke's looks to create more space while on the brink of full capacity

Posted at 8:10 PM, Oct 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-23 22:10:38-04

TWIN FALLS — St. Luke's is continuing to face a daily struggle of being at or near full capacity as COVID numbers rise, and the number of patients varies each day.

Averaging between 150 total patients per day, they currently have nearly 50 COVID patients making up around 30% of all hospital patients. Limited staff is one of the primary factors why the hospital cannot take any more patients since there are not enough hands to help.

While the hospital couldn't specify the number of staff out, most of them are out from contracting COVID. However, it is not attributed to working in the hospital but instead from being out on their own time.

Dr. Joshua Kern, Vice President of Medical Affairs for St. Luke' said, "The context is king. Can you staff your hospital to the level that you would normally be able to? And the answer is no. We can't. So that's the fundamental answer, is no, we can't staff our hospital as well as we would want to for the volume of patients we have."

The average patient is in the hospital for two or three days, depending on what they are being treated for, while the COVID patients are averaging 7-10 days. Oxygen is the standard treatment since the bulk of these patients are experiencing shortness of breath.

The hospital has been experiencing one death a day, and numbers are growing within the ICU. "I think we have something like 6 ICU COVID patients right now. That's our normal ICU census. Our ICU is usually staffed for around 6 ICU patients at any given time. We have several other ICU patients on top of that," said Kern.

Now that the South Central Public Health District has put multiple counties in the Critical Risk Level Category, the hospital anticipates even more patients in the near future. To help create more space, St. Luke's is no longer admitting children to its pediatrics ward.

"Because, again of our concern about staffing and just physical space, we're probably going to be preparing our pediatric floor to overflow with adult patients if we need to," said Kern.

Pediatric patients looking for admission to the hospital will be transferred to St. Luke's Children Hospital in Boise. Pediatric patients that are currently admitted will not be transferred. The hospital will still admit newborns and NICU patients. The hospital will be reevaluating this policy regularly and will be subject to change depending on the number of patients and available resources.

Since the daily capacity is consistently changing due to deaths and patients being discharged, the hospital has been going back and forth with diversion policies. Diversion being the time when the hospital is forced to transfer patients to other facilities by ambulance.

"Our backup system right now has been Boise, and we've been able to transfer patients who have needed help to up there. For other problems like trauma, so if a patient needs to come in the hospital for having trauma, we'll transfer them to another trauma facility," said Kern.

Since most transfers are sent to Boise, some may ask, "If Boise is full, where do they go?" St. Luke's would have to look at alternative options starting in the state, including Eastern Idaho Medical Regional Center or St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. In the worst-case scenario, St. Luke's would have to start looking at out of state options.