‘Unprecedented event in modern medicine’: St. Luke’s doctor details Idaho COVID crisis
On September 16, the day the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare began allowing critical standards of care in hospital systems across the state, the division manager's mother suffered a stroke. When she went to a St. Luke's Health System emergency room the care she received was not what you would expect.
Other patients were treated in the emergency room waiting room, she had to wait longer than usual, and x-rays she was given to see if she had broken bones were taken in a "non-traditional" area, said Dave Jeppesen, director of Health and Welfare, at a press conference on Tuesday.
Instead of being hospitalized overnight for observation, she was released the same day.
"The St. Luke's ER team was amazing," said Jeppesen. But "these dedicated health professionals across the state need our help."
Crisis standards allow hospitals to ration care in response to an emergency, and they were activated nationwide at the request of St. Lukes last week. Since then, the number of COVID-19 patients has continued to rise and the burden on caring for all patients continues to increase.
Although hospital administrators continue to encourage patients with medical emergencies to go to hospital, healthcare facilities fluctuate.
"We don't provide the same level of care," said Jim Souza, chief medical officer at St. Luke’s, at the briefing on Tuesday.
Breast cancer patient surgeries have been postponed, he said, and some COVID-19 patients who were about to be transferred to an intensive care unit would be treated in less-equipped facilities instead.
“Everyone goes with a little less,” said Souza.
In Twin Falls, St. Luke's doctors were almost forced to ration supplies on Saturday when the condition of six hospital patients quickly went south and the facility had no available intensive care beds, he said. Other facilities were able to make room for the patients, but Souza said a similar problem will almost certainly recur.
"It happens every day," said Souza. "And yet, when it happened on Saturday, we were really pushed to find a solution."
At the heart of the problem is the overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients in a state where barely 50% of eligible people are vaccinated.
Eighty people died of COVID-19 this month at St. Luke's facilities, which stretch from Treasure Valley to Twin Falls to Ketchum, and 35 of them died in the past week, Souza said. Three of the deaths were under 30 and six under 40.
"For the people who say 'we all die sometime', yes we do," said Souza. "But these people didn't have to die now, and they didn't have to die like this."
Seventy percent of the hospital system's intensive care beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, as is 67% of hospital beds in general, in what Souza called an "unprecedented event in modern medicine." Of the hospital beds, 90% are unvaccinated; of those in the intensive care unit, 98% are unvaccinated, he said.
The hospital's COVID-19 death rate has increased significantly, from around 28% in ICU beds last winter to 43% today. Patients at St. Luke's facilities are also sicker and younger, from a two-week average of 72 years for hospital patients in December to 58 years now.
According to health and social data, there are almost twice as many intensive care patients nationwide as during the COVID-19 peak last year. The high point last December was 60 in the intensive care unit, on Saturday it was 112.
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