‘We’re human, and we’re getting tired’: Rural Idaho hospitals strained as state moves to crisis standards of care

IDAHO — The state of Idaho just hit another grim milestone in the fight against the coronavirus: The entire state is now under crisis standards of care.

That means if a person needs care in any part of the Gem State, it might not be what they expect.

With less staff on hand and a large increase in people needing help with COVID-19, it’s pushed some Idaho hospitals to the limit.

In some places, that means people who need care have to wait in emergency rooms longer. It also means that people might be treated in hallways or classrooms instead of a regular hospital room.

While that can be done, it doesn’t mean that it’s happening in every hospital. Kootenai Health has been operating under crisis standards of care for more than a week now, the first time in the state’s history.

COVID-19 has become too much for the hospitals and the people who are trying to help.

“We’ve been working really hard, we’re maintaining good attitudes and we’re doing a great job,” said Dr. Benjamin Good, an emergency room physician with Bonner General Health and Hospital. “But, we’re human, and we’re getting tired.”

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Bonner General Health and Hospital is not reaching crisis standards of care yet, but Good said it can happen soon. They’re operating on contingency levels and have been since the pandemic started.

“We don’t have much surge capacity left. All it would take is a slight uptick in the numbers of critically ill patients we have,” Good continued. “Heaven forbid a major motor vehicle accident and we’d be done.”

Gritman Medical Center in Moscow is nearly in the same boat.

Peter Mundt, the director of community relations and marking for the medical center says the strain is “significant and real.”

Gritman Medical Center is a 25-bed critical access hospital. It’s been treating patients with COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, but about a month ago, the medical center decided to put in a dedicated COVID-19 patient care unit at the hospital because they saw how the Delta variant was spreading.

“That’s been helpful, from a logistical standpoint, to have a dedicated area in the hospital to provide that type of care,” he said.

Since they put that unit in the hospital, it’s been at near or at capacity since then, Mundt said.

Bonner General Health and Hospital is also a 25-bed critical access hospital. Of the 25 critical access beds it has now, 16 people are in the hospital and 10 of those people are being treated with COVID.

Included in that 25, the hospital only has four ICU beds. All four are being used with two having COVID-19.

The last 18 months will be something nurses and doctors will never forget, but there are moments that stood out as they battled the pandemic.

“I’ll probably never ever forget, standing at our ICU helping a patient who was terminal, urgently dying within an hour. And, we had family at the bedside who were talking about COVID being a joke, that it didn’t even exist and was blown out of proportion. You just, that takes a toll,” said Bryce Cordle, the unit nurse manager with Bonner General Health and Hospital.

Idaho has one of the lowest vaccination rates across the country. The state recently hit 50 percent of its population 12 and up fully vaccinated.

Nurses like Cordle say they still have patients coming in with COVID who are “pretty disillusioned that they got it at all.”

“I love where I live, I’m worried for my neighbors. I don’t agree with a lot of them, but I’m worried for them,” Good added.

He says they get into disagreements with people trying to help them, but people are refusing to put masks on or are upset about the visitor restrictions.

Hospital leaders, doctors and nurses at Bonner General Health and Hospital as well as Gritman Medical Center are begging people to do the right thing, hoping they don’t have to reach crisis standards of care.

“We’re on an ugly trajectory. All over the state, all over the region. This country has gone through harder things. Our grandparents and great grandparents made greater sacrifices over the course of two world wars for a lot longer period of time than what we’re asking people to do,” Good continued. “What we’re asking people to do is wear a mask the right way, socially distance when possible, and get vaccinated.”

RELATED: ‘A last resort’: Crisis standards of care activated in North Idaho as region struggles to keep up with COVID surge

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