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As beds fill, hospital concerns grow

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IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Eastern Idaho Public Health’s goal is still to educate the public but now they are stressing the importance of compliance.

James Corbett, Community Health Division Administrator for Eastern Idaho Public Health says our active case rates are landing people in the hospital.

“Hospitalizations, we see about 4.2% for locally here of known cases. So when cases continue to rise, we know that hospitalizations will lag slightly from one to three weeks but they will also rise," Corbett said.

Only 1 Intensive Care Unit bed was available in the Idaho Falls area over the past weekend, according to the hospital CEOs. It's because of the number of COVID-19 patients being admitted to the hospital, they said.

The CEOs reported their current status to the Eastern Idaho Public Health board Thursday morning. Those ICU beds included both COVID-19 patients and people with other ailments.

Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center Cheif Operation Officer David Hoffenberg said they currently have 26 COVID-19 patients at the hospital, 6 of them in the ICU on ventilators. That's up from last Thursday when they had 21 cases at the hospital. But that evening, they admitted 7 new COVID-19 patients. On Saturday, EIRMC had to go on an ICU closure for 8 to 10 hours because of the limited beds available, he said.

Community Hospital CEO Casey Jackman reported they have 17 patients with 5 in the ICU on ventilators. They had 19 on the weekend. 1 patient is on comfort care, meaning they could pass soon.

Madison Memorial's Chief Nursing Officer Kevin McEwan said they have had 6 COVID-19 patients, 1 in the ICU. They have a surge capacity plan which they can utilize up to 12 beds. 6 is the most they have had one time and keep popping up to that number. They have consistently had 3 or 4 patients over the last many weeks. Their biggest limitation is staffing, he said. Madison has 4 ICU beds and all of them are in use and have another 6 med-surge beds.

Both hospitals are concerned with the increase of cases and nervous about having enough staff to take care of patient needs. They said their nurses and staff are getting fatigued.

"We are nervous and we hope this is a blip, and it was a one time jump in cases and we don't see a sustained continued growth, because that would strain our resources to the point where we would be in a tough position as a facility," Hoffenberg said.

"Our situation continues to be tenuous. If things get worse we are not well positioned, given our nursing resources, our facility resources, to handle a continued increase of patients with COVID and the strain it's putting on our system and the health systems across the region is significant," Hoffenberg said. "There was a point this weekend where every ICU bed in the region was filled. And that is not a position anyone wants to be in."

A concern is the length of time a COVID-19 patients are using the ICU beds compared to those who don't have COVID. EIRMC said COVID patients are using a third of their ICU beds.

This is putting a strain on hospital staff and resources.

“We’ve heard from the hospitals, they are concerned about an increasing number of COVID patients and then, hence, their capacity to care for all patients,” Corbett said.

Casey Jackman is the Chief Operating Officer for Idaho Falls Community Hospital. He says right now, they only have room for one more COVID patient in his ICU.

“There are 16 beds available but I can staff 8 right now with the staff that I have on hand,” Jackman said.

Jackman says it is important right now to take preventative measures like wearing a mask when you cannot socially distance.

“Because A, we don’t want to spread this to people that are not able to resist it as well. And B, I need to protect the nurses and the hospital staff because if they get sick or they’re exposed to COVID, then I don’t have them here to help take care of patients," Jackman said.

"This morning, our hospital could accept 5 medical patients, 2 COVID patients and 1 ICU patient. So I can accept 8 new patients today and then I am full," Jackman told the board about Community Hospital's patient situation.

“I think that because of the higher exposure rate with schools being back in session and us trying to get back to a new normal where we are actually gathering in smaller groups, I think this is increasing the exposure to people and it’s spreading at a higher rate,” Jackman said.

Jackman warns not to let COVID-fatigue get the better of us. Although we all want to go back to a normal way of life, he says we need to continue to be socially conscious.

The health board is hoping more education will help encourage more people to follow the “everyday preventative measures.”

Those are:

  • Stay home if you are sick Maintain physical distance of at least 6 feet from others (outside of immediate family) whenever possible
  • Wear face coverings that fully cover the nose and mouth in public when physical distancing is not possible or hard to maintain
  • Wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer
  • Carefully monitor your health

The board made some small revisions to the ‘Regional Response Plan’ because of what they are seeing currently.

They included:

- In the High Risk level, change the rate of active cases from 50/10,000 active cases to 30/10,000.   

 - Working more with local community leaders to develop educational and mitigation efforts.

- The board is also recommending each risk level be maintained for 14 days instead of the current 7 day requirement.  The change will help prevent the yo-yoing effect of moving in and out of a risk level.  Respective county commissioners would have the option to request an order remain in effect for a certain of time.

The changes will be written up and posted next week, they said.

Because of the revision, Madison County is now in the High Risk Level.

The next East Idaho Public Health Board meeting will be in two weeks.

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Chelsea Briar

Chelsea is a reporter and producer for Local News 8 and KIDK Eyewitness News 3.


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