By Lyndsie Kiebert
Idaho made an unprecedented move in its fight against the novel coronavirus on Sept. 7, as the Department of Health and Welfare announced that North Idaho would be activating crisis standards of care — a means of operating under conditions of extreme demand with limited resources to deliver care.
The extreme demand is due to an influx of COVID-19 patients, the vast majority of them unvaccinated against the virus.
“Crisis standards of care is a last resort. It means we have exhausted our resources to the point that our health care systems are unable to provide the treatment and care we expect,” said IDHW Director Dave Jeppesen in a media release. “This is a decision I was fervently hoping to avoid.”
Hospitals in the Panhandle and North Central Health Districts are now operating under crisis standards, including Bonner General Health.
“We have reached the point where many aspects of medical care are being affected,” Erin Binnall, a spokesperson with BGH, told the Reader on Sept. 8. “The ability to transfer patients in need of specialty care is unlikely. A car accident resulting in a trauma surgeon, a stroke requiring a neurosurgeon or a heart attack in need of cardiac intervention could be patients sitting and waiting in the Emergency Department for a specialist or bed to become available.”
With transfers unlikely and resources limited by demands, Binnall said there’s an increased “burden on staff, supplies and providers.”
As a result, she said the hospital’s incident command team is meeting daily to make emergency plans for “additional space, supplies, testing, staffing issues and other logistical considerations with the volume and acuity we are experiencing.”
“We are in unprecedented times; this situation is ever-changing,” she said.
While rumors swirl on social media that the situation in North Idaho hospitals is not as dire as officials are making it sound, Binnall said it is important to remember that capacity at BGH “can change on a minute-to-minute basis.”
“Therefore, we encourage the community to treat our local health care workers with compassion and respect during this time of crisis, regardless of your beliefs,” she said.
Health authorities at all levels are encouraging people to take actions to contain the spread — particularly, getting vaccinated against the virus.
“Please choose to get vaccinated as soon as possible — it is your very best protection against being hospitalized from COVID-19,” Jeppesen said.
BGH officials are echoing the same message.
“The doctors, nurses and health care professionals who have cared for your families in sickness and health ask for your help in this time of need,” Binnall said. “We strongly encourage every person who is eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. Even if you choose not to get the vaccine, there are other ways you can help decrease the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”
Those measures include wearing a mask indoors, physically distancing, hand washing, staying home when sick and reducing travel. Binnall also recommended that while North Idaho operates under crisis standards of care, people “avoid activities with a high risk of injury.”
Visit coronavirus.idaho.gov to view the latest COVID-19 data in Idaho, including case counts, vaccination rates and more. Those seeking a vaccination locally can get one at Family Health Center, Kaniksu Community Health, Sandpoint Super Drug, Walmart Pharmacy, White Cross Pharmacy or Yokes Pharmacy. Appointments are also available through the Panhandle Health District by signing up online at panhandlehealthdistrict.org.
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