As COVID-19 cases surge, one of Idaho’s largest hospitals had to temporarily stop taking patients

St. Lukes
Posted at 5:57 PM, Nov 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-08 19:57:28-05

This article was originally published by Audrey Dutton of the Idaho Statesman.

One of Idaho’s largest hospitals has been strained so heavily by the surge of COVID-19 cases that it was forced this weekend and last weekend to send patients elsewhere.

St. Luke’s Magic Valley hospital in Twin Falls went on diversion for 12 hours the weekend of Oct. 31 and for 12 hours earlier this weekend. That meant it not only couldn’t take patients who needed to be transferred from other hospitals, it also didn’t have room for patients who came in needing medical care.

Four to five patients each weekend were sent to other hospitals, mainly in the Treasure Valley, according to St. Luke’s representatives.

The Twin Falls hospital has had between 44 and 52 patients with COVID-19 each day since Halloween, according to coronavirus data available on the St. Luke’s website. As much as 31% of all the patients in the hospital had the virus, the data show.

There were 310 people hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state on Friday, according to federal data gathered from Idaho hospitals.

As the virus spreads in the Magic Valley, some of the hospital’s front-line employees have been out sick or in quarantine.

“It takes a lot of managing, it takes a lot of effort and calling nurses and begging them to work extra shifts,” Dr. Joshua Kern, vice president of medical affairs for St. Luke’s Magic Valley, Jerome and Wood River told the Statesman last month. “It gets back around to, how long can you sustain this? How long can you provide the high quality health care we provide?”

St. Luke’s Magic Valley stopped doing elective surgeries last month, and began to send most of its pediatric patients to its children’s hospital in Boise. Both actions were meant to free up staff as more coronavirus patients arrived at the hospital.

That same scenario — more people needing medical care, with limited staff — is playing out around the state and throughout the Mountain West and Midwest regions.

Idaho’s hospitals, large and small, have warned that Idaho’s current record-breaking streak of new coronavirus cases will bring more hospitalizations in coming weeks. While hospitals are still able to either care for patients or transfer them to hospitals with open beds, it is becoming more difficult to find space.

Idaho hospitals have relied on being able to send patients to other states like Utah and Montana, but those states are similarly stretched thin.

St. Luke’s hospitals in the Treasure Valley currently have enough capacity, according to the health system.

The system’s Boise, Nampa and Meridian hospitals had a total of 51 patients with COVID-19 on Saturday, out of a total of 368 patients.

“We do not have plans at this time to cancel elective surgeries in the Treasure Valley,” said Anita Kissée, public relations manager for St. Luke’s Health System. “There are other ways we continue to work to flex capacity across all sites first. We hope not to have to do that again like earlier in the year because we know people need those surgeries or procedures. That said, it all depends on the number of patients needing hospitalization, but at this time we are not at the level of needing to pause certain elective surgeries like what is happening in Magic Valley.”

The Twin Falls City Council will consider a mask mandate at its meeting Monday.