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Crisis care standards in Idaho due to COVID-19 could have a ripple effect into Utah

File photo: Workers treat patients in the medical ICU at University of Utah Hospital. Photo: Charlie Ehlert, University of Utah Health, July 30.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare enacted “crisis standards of care” for the state’s northern hospitals on Monday. Utah health officials stated the crisis care standards being used in Idaho are a troubling sign for Utah. 

Idaho enacts crisis standards of care

According to KSL TV, the decision to enact the crisis standards of care, “Came as the state’s confirmed coronavirus cases skyrocketed in recent weeks.” IDHW cited “a severe shortage of staffing and available beds in the northern area of the state caused by a massive increase in patients with COVID-19 who require hospitalization.”

The move allows hospitals to allot resources like intensive care unit rooms to patients who will most likely survive. Other patients will still receive care, but they may be placed in hospital classrooms or conference rooms rather than traditional hospital rooms or go without some life-saving medical equipment.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Utah 

As COVID-19 cases climb in Utah, health care officials are keeping a close eye on how the virus is spreading in other neighboring states. 

Over the Labor Day weekend, Utah Department of Health, UDOH, officials reported 4,657 new cases of COVID-19, with 27 additional deaths. Currently, there are 482 people hospitalized from the virus in Utah, which is down 21 people from Friday. 

However, hospitals that treat the most severe cases of COVID-19 are 89% full and overall ICUs are listed as 86% full. Dr. Eddie Stenehjem with Intermountain Healthcare said their doctors and nurses can still provide quality care, but it isn’t the same kind of care they would normally give.

“We’re having nurses that care for more patients than they need to, so they spend less time with individual patients,” Stenehjem said.

However, doctors in Utah aren’t just treating patients from the state. Stenehjem reported hospitals from neighboring states will reach out to facilities in other states if they run out of bed space; the calls have been steadily pouring into Utah. 

“We are absolutely seeing people from all over the region looking to wherever they can to get a patient admitted to a hospital because of the crisis we’re currently in,” Stenehjem said.

Utah Hospital Association President Greg Bell said “We get calls from all of our caller states, from the west coast into the Midwest, Texas, etc., from hospitals desperate to place patients. They want to fly them in here.”

Bell reported the health care system in Utah is not as overloaded as other states and going into “crisis care standards” is a move they would dread making. However, according to Bell, if there is a heavy burden on hospitals in northern Idaho, then that would increase the burden in cities closer to Utah.

“Then, that puts pressure on Logan, then Ogden and ultimately, the state of Utah,” he said.

Bell said the problem isn’t a lack of resources but a lack of health care workers to handle the rising caseload. He said many workers have left since the start of the pandemic and other states wouldn’t be able to spare any additional nurses or technicians if Utah’s hospitals became overworked.