FDA approval of COVID-19 vaccine may prevent looming hospital capacity crisis

Unfortunately, there isn’t any outside help to be had. Idaho is on its own, writes guest columnist Brian Whitlock.

August 24, 2021 11:39 am
health care provider provides COVID vaccination

A health care provider administers the COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination clinic at St. Luke’s. (Courtesy of St. Luke’s Health System)

Late last week, Idaho stood up its first Medical Operations Coordination Cell calls in response to COVID-19.

The name may sound innocuous, but it could be the most ominous action taken so far by our health care system during this pandemic. To deal with the expanding overflow of patients, hospitals and EMS leaders are working together on a process to coordinate rolling closures of emergency departments, while still making sure people have a place to go for immediate care.

Activating a Medical Operations Coordination Cell is one of the final steps before moving into crisis standards of care. That’s the point at which actual health care rationing will take place and when medical professionals will be forced to make the best possible decisions in a bad situation.

The trajectory we are on with COVID cases, hospitalizations, and staffing shortages will soon overrun too many of our hospitals. We are already experiencing cases of hospitals being forced to divert patients to other facilities because they lack capacity.

In Idaho, we’ve had floods, fires, and big accidents. This is a new type of disaster that is difficult for many to visualize. Instead of a sudden natural disaster in a single location, we are experiencing a booming rate of hospitalizations all over the state.

We can’t easily evacuate patients to other areas because those sites are experiencing the same disaster. At this rate, a statewide health care crisis is imminent.

In many disasters, Idaho’s nurses, doctors, and other health care workers have volunteered to go into harm’s way to help. As recently as last year, they headed to New York and Seattle to give their counterparts a hand with COVID-19 patients. Now, we find ourselves in the place where we need help.

Unfortunately, there isn’t any help to be had. Idaho is on its own.

Hospitals across the country are in the same position – bursting at the seams with no end in sight. Hospitals and health care entities have worked for years preparing and planning for disasters, individually and jointly. Your friends and neighbors in health care constantly work to assure patients have a place for the care they need, but we’ve reached a breaking point. As a result, that care may not be where or as fast as you’d like it to be.

Hospitals are doing everything they can to prepare for a firestorm that is no longer in the distance. The storm is here. For those of you who do your part, our thanks.

For those who were on the fence waiting for FDA approval of a vaccine, my hope is you will now join the efforts to build that viral fire break before things burn out of control.

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Brian Whitlock
Brian Whitlock

Brian Whitlock joined the Idaho Hospital Association in 2015 and serves as its president and CEO. Prior to joining the association, Whitlock was the director of state and regional governmental affairs for the Idaho National Laboratory and chief of staff and state budget director for former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne. He graduated from Brigham Young University.