Projections now say Idaho will avert a ‘crisis standards’ disaster over the holidays

Posted at 6:14 PM, Dec 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-24 10:37:13-05

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

Idaho health care leaders went into this holiday season worried that hospitals would be overwhelmed — that a joyous time would turn grim as they had to deny some patients life-saving medical care.

St. Luke’s and Saint Alphonsus health system officials said earlier this month that their projections showed Idaho needing to ration care around Christmas or New Year’s.

Now, Idaho’s two largest health care systems aren’t as worried about that happening.

“While we are prepared to act if the state declares crisis standards, we are not anticipating that happening in the next two weeks,” said St. Luke’s Health System Public Relations Manager Anita Kissée, in an email Tuesday.

St. Luke’s and other health care providers in the region have “aggressively and proactively instituted contingency strategies” to make beds available to patients, she said. “We are all working closely together to make sure we can provide care to those in need,” even if that means making changes to how they staff or operate.

“We continue to watch our hospital capacity very closely and know our community’s actions in the next two weeks will have a real impact on what’s next for our hospitals,” Kissée said. “We are hopeful that the good practices we have seen since sounding the alarm earlier this month will continue to have a positive impact on the health of our community. If we can all continue to do our part to protect one another, and as the new COVID-19 vaccines become more available, we feel very optimistic.”

Saint Alphonsus spokesperson Mark Snider said that while COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped this week, “we are still preparing for the anticipated surge of patients following the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and sincerely hope that the communities we serve in Southwest Idaho and Eastern Oregon will follow the measures to prevent spread of the virus. We are staffed and prepared, and do not anticipate that our state or region will reach the crisis standard of care level in the near future. However, that can change rapidly, and so it’s important people continue to be vigilant and safely celebrate the holidays.”

Public health officials have asked Idahoans to alter their holiday travel and party plans, wear face coverings and practice good hand hygiene.

Kissée noted that since Idaho hospital leaders warned of encroaching “crisis standards of care” a few weeks ago, there has been a slight decrease in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. Daily reported cases peaked Dec. 9 at 2,298, although some parts of the state are behind on reporting cases. The Idaho Statesman has counted an average of 1,187 new cases reported per day statewide over the past week.

Hospitalizations peaked Dec. 1 at 496 and have stayed in the mid-400s since then (433 on Monday).

The state has, however, continued to see record-high numbers of people with COVID-19 in hospital ICU beds (122 on Friday, but down to 106 on Monday).

“St. Luke’s numbers are down a bit from the record highs after Thanksgiving, yet still not nearly as low as we would like them to be,” Kissée said. “We recognize many people in our communities do take this virus seriously and have stepped up to do what they personally can to protect not only themselves, but their neighbors. We know their actions are having an impact and we are grateful. … We just need them to continue, especially during the holidays.”