As Idaho Activates Crisis Standards of Care, Health Care Leaders Deliver Vaccination Plea

Poster reads: Idaho is under crisis standards of care statewide

Photo Credit: Idaho Department of Health and Welfare

On Sept. 16, crisis standards of care were activated for the state of Idaho, as COVID-19 hospitalizations soared again. Under these standards, health care providers are permitted to triage patients and make difficult decisions about how to allocate and use scarce medical resources. Hospitals in Northern Idaho had been operating under state-ordered crisis standards of care since Sept. 6 — just 10 days earlier. The situation in that region and across the entire state had worsened.

The action was necessary to meet “an unprecedented health care demand across the state of Idaho,” said Brian Whitlock, president and CEO of the Idaho Hospital Association, at a virtual media briefing on Sept. 16. “For some of our hospitals, the demands have clearly outstripped their resources.” Whitlock explained that activation of the crisis standards of care “provides guidance for hospitals and those providers who are on the front lines on how to extend care to as many patients as possible and save as many lives as possible given the circumstances that we are facing.”

Idaho hospital and health system leaders who joined the media briefing included Chris Roth, president and CEO of St. Luke’s Health System, based in Boise; Steven Nemerson, M.D., chief clinical officer of Saint Alphonsus in Boise and Nampa; Tom Murphy, CEO of Minidoka Memorial Hospital in Rupert; and Jordan Herget, CEO of Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello.

St. Luke’s Health System requested activating the crisis standards of care as its ICUs overflowed with COVID-19 patients, the majority of them unvaccinated. All of the hospitals have been experiencing overwhelming increases in COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 cases.

While describing the record number of COVID-19 cases and the strain on care teams and staff, the health care leaders also shared one unified message to Idahoans on how to end the crisis: Get vaccinated, wear a mask, avoid large gatherings, and trust information from doctors over misinformation about COVID-19 shared on social media.

As of mid-September 2021, about 53% of Idahoans age 18 and older were fully vaccinated, putting Idaho 48th on a list of 52 U.S. states and territories ranked according to the percentage of population fully vaccinated.

During the media briefing, Roth of St. Luke’s observed, “Sadly, instead of fighting this pandemic together, we seem to be fighting each other. If we’re going to turn the tide, we have to lower the demand.” 

Murphy of Minidoka Memorial Hospital said instead of the rural hospital transferring patients by helicopter to the larger tertiary hospitals for services it cannot provide, it is receiving patients from the larger hospitals that are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

Nemerson of Saint Alphonsus admitted he was “scared for all of us” and said the new wave of cases was “a wakeup call to us all.” On a recent call with news media only, he became emotional talking about the exhaustion of the health care staff.