Some Idaho hospitals delay non-emergency procedures as hospitalizations, ICU admissions rise

Hospitalization and ICU admissions statewide as of Monday, Aug. 9. Screen shot, http://coronavirus.idaho.gov

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

As COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions are climbing statewide, two of the state’s largest hospitals, St. Luke’s Health System in southern Idaho and Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene, have announced they are once again halting certain non-emergency procedures because of the recent increase in COVID-19 patients. 

On Wednesday, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reported 736 new cases and 10 new deaths. As of Monday, the most recent day for which data is available, 89 people with COVID-19 were in ICUs statewide, and 267 total were hospitalized. Those hospitalization and ICU numbers are similar to what Idaho saw in November, at the beginning of the state’s third and deadliest wave of the pandemic thus far. 

According to data released by IDHW, there are 132 available ICU beds in the state, but caring for a critically ill patient also requires nurses and doctors. That’s the major issue for Kootenai Health.

“We need help finding enough nursing staff to care for the increased volumes of critical care and acute care patients,” said Jeremy Evans, Chief Regional Operations Officer at Kootenai Health, in a Wednesday press release. Kootenai Health Chief Nursing Officer Joan Simon said the hospital is reassigning staff to care for hospitalized COVID-19 patients, and has reached out to the state for resources. 

Kootenai Health’s surge in COVID patients is compounded by recent population growth, as well as an increase in critically ill patients with other ailments — some of whom may have delayed care earlier in the pandemic, the press release said. 

In southern Idaho, St. Luke’s announced on Wednesday that it, too, is postponing non-emergency procedures that require overnight care.

“We are implementing this pause in order to accommodate and plan for increased patient volumes as our patients needing to be admitted has doubled in two weeks and the COVID-19 positivity rate continues to climb,” said Dr. Jim Souza, Chief Physician Executive, St. Luke’s Health System, in a press release. “We strongly encourage and are appealing to individuals to take measures to decrease the spread of COVID-19, including vaccinations for those who are eligible and wearing a mask indoors whenever you are around individuals who are not part of your immediate family. Providing care to all who need it is our priority and our mission; we hope everyone will take the necessary steps.”

From Aug. 9-20, St. Luke’s Magic Valley is cancelling elective surgeries, catherization labs, interventional radiology and endoscopy procedures requiring hospitalization. St. Luke’s Boise, Nampa and Meridian will cancel those procedures from Aug. 16-27.

St. Luke’s will continue to provide outpatient surgeries and procedures that don’t require overnight stays.

Not all hospitals are postponing non-emergency procedures.

“We are monitoring inpatient bed capacity and evaluating each appointment on a case-by-case basis,” said Mark Snider, public relations coordinator for St. Alphonsus, in an e-mail to Idaho Reports. “At this time we are not instituting a blanket pause to non-emergent, non-time sensitive care but may need to implement strategies to address capacity concerns in the future.”

IDHW officials have repeatedly said non-vaccinated people account for the vast majority of recent ICU admissions and deaths. According to data released by IDHW, the breakthrough case rate among fully vaccinated Idahoans is 197.7 per 100,000. The case rate among those who aren’t fully vaccinated is 1,118.5 per 100,000. 

Idaho Reports has reached out to other hospitals around the state. Watch for our continued coverage online. 

Logan Finney and Ruth Brown contributed to this report.

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