Gem State Roundup

A COVID-19 patient in Oklahoma needed a bed. The closest one was in Boise.

By: - August 12, 2021 3:38 pm
Photo of St. Luke's Downtown Boise hospital

St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center is the flagship hospital of the St. Luke’s Health System. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The latest COVID-19 surge is different from the last, and it’s much more dangerous, a local hospital executive said Thursday.

“The overall trend is bad. It’s looking worse than the December, January surge” of COVID-19, said Dr. Jim Souza, St. Luke’s chief physician executive.

Indeed, the number of COVID-19 patients statewide in the hospital, and particularly in intensive care units, has been rising as rapidly as it did in the fall. The hospitalizations now are at levels unseen since January.

Souza again implored the public to get vaccinated, which significantly reduces the risk of infection and severe illness.

In the fall and winter, the original coronavirus variant spread less quickly, making hot spots flare up and then die down in one place after another. The faster spreading delta variant seems to be hitting wide swaths of the U.S. at the same time.

Souza said two patients recently admitted to St. Luke’s with COVID-19 were transported to Boise from Tillamook, Oregon, and from Oklahoma.

It’s not unusual for St. Luke’s to accept patient transfers from other states, he said. What is unusual is getting calls from hospitals on the Oregon coast or in Oklahoma, looking for a place to put their patients because no other hospitals nearby could take them.

Souza warned that Idaho is at risk of getting overwhelmed just like other states in the U.S.

“Our ICU census is bursting at the seams,” he said.

The health system has been forced to assign nurses to a larger cohort of patients. St. Luke’s hasn’t seen an increase in “never events” like patients getting new infections or injuries in the hospital, but a crew of tired, understaffed workers is less able to provide high quality care, he said.

The health system this week announced a pause in non-emergency procedures that require an overnight stay. That was an attempt to ensure enough staff and beds for patients coming in with COVID-19, as cases increase in the Boise area and statewide.

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Audrey Dutton
Audrey Dutton

Audrey Dutton was a senior investigative reporter with the Idaho Capital Sun after 10 years at the Idaho Statesman. Her favorite topics to cover included 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.