As local hospitals fill up, the Boise VA makes a rare offer

The local veterans hospital in the Treasure Valley may start taking civilian transfers

By: - August 31, 2021 8:18 am
Photo of a sign a the Boise VA Medical Center

The Boise VA Medical Center is in downtown Boise, blocks from the Boise campus of St. Luke’s Health System. The VA hospital cares for veterans and made the unprecedented move to care for civilians during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Audrey Dutton/Idaho Capital Sun)

Health care is the front line of the war against COVID-19. As the battle intensifies in Treasure Valley hospitals, the Boise Veterans Affairs Medical Center has reached out to them with an unprecedented offer.

The Boise VA hospital “is working with hospitals valley-wide to take non-military veterans when we have capacity,” James Winget, executive officer to the director told the Sun in an email Monday.

Winget said its offer was a local initiative.

“There are likely other VA facilities that are doing the same thing, but it is not a VA-wide initiative at this point,” Winget said. “If we have staff and beds open and other hospitals are full, we will absolutely start accepting civilian patients.”

Indeed, the Spokane VA hospital also has agreed to help out, Elke Shaw-Tulloch, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s public health administrator said at a media briefing Tuesday afternoon.

“In northern Idaho, we have been working with them on new patient transfers,” she said.

As the number of new cases of COVID-19 continue to rise at a pace unseen since last winter, hospitals in Idaho’s urban areas are already at a crisis turning point.

197 COVID+ patients today
Pulling in more providers from our clinics to support inpatient care
This will very likely impact operations in other areas
Looking how to sustain this for many more weeks as the peak to this surge is predicted to be mid-Oct
Most of this was avoidable

– Dr. Robert Cavagnol, St. Luke's Health System, on Twitter Aug. 30, 2021

Federal data released Monday showed a worsening trend for COVID-19 hospitalizations in Idaho, which now rival and exceed Idaho’s hospitalization rates from last fall and winter.

The data showed an average of zero to one adult ICU bed available at hospitals in Boise, Caldwell, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls, Lewiston and Nampa. In addition, Magic Valley news station KMVT reported Monday that the region’s main hospital, in Twin Falls, also had no remaining ICU beds.

Not all patients who are filling up Idaho hospitals have the coronavirus disease. But COVID-19 patients, who are almost entirely unvaccinated, are now one in five of the patients in Idaho’s hospitals.

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Audrey Dutton
Audrey Dutton

Audrey Dutton, senior investigative reporter, joined the Idaho Capital Sun after 10 years at the Idaho Statesman. Her favorite topics to cover include health care, business, consumer protection issues and white collar crime. Before coming home to Idaho, Dutton worked as a journalist in Minnesota, New York, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Dutton's work has earned dozens of state, regional and national awards for investigative reporting, health care and business reporting, data visualization and more.