BOISE, Idaho (AP) – Amid the Idaho coronavirus wave that prompted authorities to allow hospitals to ration health care, Army soldiers sent to a hospital traded their fatigues for personal protective equipment to help treat a flood of infected patients.

The conference center at Kootenai Health Hospital in the town of Coeur d’Alene has been converted into a sort of field hospital – with some of its classrooms filled with hospital beds where patients receive medicine. oxygen or are receiving treatment with monoclonal antibodies, hospital officials said.

In the main building of the nearby hospital of the city of about 50,000 inhabitants, some patients in emergency rooms receive treatment in a converted hall and others in corridors. Urgent surgeries have been suspended and some critically ill patients face long waits for intensive care beds.

The overwhelmed hospital is at the epicenter of a coronavirus crisis for the northern part of the state – and where state officials this week authorized ‘crisis care standards’ status.

This allowed Kootenai Health, where an entire floor was turned into a makeshift COVID-19 unit, and other hospitals in the area to ration health care during the outbreak.

Public health officials warn that healthcare rationing could soon spread statewide, forcing already traumatized doctors and nurses to make heartbreaking decisions about who will get life-saving care.

Newly confirmed coronavirus cases in Idaho are on the rise, and the state now has an average of more than 950 new cases per day, according to Johns Hopkins University – an increase of more than 41% in the past two weeks .

Idaho is also the last of the U.S. states with only about 45% of residents having received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Just under 40% of residents are fully immunized, making Idaho the 48th country compared to other states and Washington, DC

“For the rest of the state, we remain dangerously close to crisis care standards,” Idaho Department of Health and Welfare director Dave Jeppesen warned on Tuesday, as he did not. There were only nine intensive care unit beds available statewide.

Crushing patients forced Kootenai Health to “do things that weren’t normal – way outside normal – sometimes,” hospital chief of staff Dr Robert Scoggins said.

“Almost every day at this point we experience cardiac arrest from patients when their oxygen level drops too low and we cannot provide them with enough oxygen,” he said.

While many smaller rural hospitals in northern Idaho have not been forced to ration health care, they often have nowhere to send their critically ill patients who would normally be transferred to Kootenai Health.

Hospitals in neighboring Washington state would normally help cope with the overflow, but they are also full of patients, Jeppesen said.

Peter Mundt, spokesperson for Gritman Medical Center in the city of Moscow in Idaho, said the institution was struggling to find hospital destinations to transfer patients with severe heart problems and other conditions unrelated to COVID -19.

“Our ability to accommodate non-COVID patients is very strained at this point,” Mundt said. “Even though we are all different hospitals, we normally work together as collaborative colleagues and peers. We need it to function as a giant system and this system is under strain right now. “

In the town of Lewiston, the St. Joseph Regional Medical Center is also operating “at the limit of our capabilities,” said spokesperson Sam Skinner.

“Our current situation is worse than it has ever been,” Skinner said. “As we continue to see the outbreak of COVID-19 in our community, the impact on a hospital can quickly have this ripple effect. Our low community vaccination rates place an incredible burden on our community. “

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare moved north and north-central Idaho into the crisis designation Monday night, giving hospitals a legal and ethical model to use while rationing care .

The designation will remain in effect until there are sufficient resources – including staff, hospital beds and equipment or a decline in the number of patients – to provide normal treatment levels to all. patients.

Under the guidelines, patients are given priority scores based on a number of factors that affect their likelihood of surviving a health crisis.

People considered to be most in need of care and most likely to benefit from it are put on priority lists for scarce resources like intensive care beds.

Others in need, but less likely to survive, will receive “comfort care” to help them stay pain free, whether they succumb to their illness or recover.

Other patients with serious but not life-threatening medical problems will experience delays in receiving care until resources are available.

Jeppesen stressed on Tuesday that vaccines are the best way to reduce demand on hospitals. Data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that full vaccination with any of the currently available coronavirus vaccines significantly reduces the risk of requiring hospitalization for coronavirus infection.

State health officials have also asked people not to go to the emergency room for asymptomatic coronavirus tests or other issues that can be addressed in doctors’ offices, but said no one should delay medical treatment. emergency room visits for potentially serious conditions. They warned people to be prepared to wait for treatment.

Hospitals in Idaho have struggled to fill nursing, housekeeping and other health care vacancies, in part because some staff have left because they are exhausted from the pressure pandemic and because others have been quarantined because they have been exposed to COVID-19.

Late last month, Little called in 220 medical workers available under federal programs and mobilized 150 Idaho National Guard soldiers to help hospitals weather the tide.

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