ICU beds are filling up, but hospitals say they can still offer care

Posted at 2:17 PM, Dec 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-02 10:17:40-05

Intensive Care Unit beds across the state are filling up, especially in the Treasure Valley.

According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, there are 130 open ICU beds across the state for patients needing intensive care.

Monday, a social media post sparked concern over hospitals' capacity around the Treasure Valley, and if they had enough space and staff to handle COVID-19 and other patients.

St. Luke's staff says they did fill up capacity last night for available beds with available staffing. They kept patients needing an ICU bed in the emergency department overnight until they could transfer patients out and move them from the ER to the ICU this morning.

While this is not a regular occurrence, St. Luke's says it has happened in the past when they have a capacity issue, especially in the middle of the night when it's not a good time to discharge or transfer patients.

Hospital ICU's are getting closer to full capacity each day. In particular, St. Luke's says it has 8 ICU beds open in Boise, Meridian, and Nampa. But, some of those beds are already being reserved for patients coming out of urgent surgeries. St. Luke's staff says the emergency department's ability to provide critical care services is "not a concern at all."

"They are capable of performing the same type of care in the emergency department that they would receive in an intensive care unit. It's just not where you would prefer to be on a long-term basis, but it's not a risk, or a lower level of care they are receiving when they are in the emergency department," St. Luke's Chief Quality Officer and Associate Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bart Hill said.

While St. Luke's can offer care for patients in need, the strain is put on staff working long hours and picking up additional shifts.

But what happens if hospitals hit full capacity?

"Ultimately, what would happen is, if one hospital truly didn't have any further capacity, they are going to be seeking out the other hospitals to say we are full in this area. Our ICU, children's, or whatever area is at capacity, we need to transfer a patient to you, and then the other hospital will accept that transfer," Hill said.

Saint Alphonsus says they are in the double-digits when it comes to open ICU beds, and they also can offer care for all patients as of now.

The health systems have been planning for the possibility of reaching capacity since April.

“We've identified some space that might be considered soft space. It might not be hospital space at this moment, as well as units that are not occupied right not that we can reequip and open up additional bed space,” Vice President of operations for Boise and Regional Chief Nursing Officer for Saint Alphonsus Jennifer Misajet said.