Idaho Hospitals Begin Rationing Resources Amid COVID Surge

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A health care worker checks on a COVID-19 patient in an Idaho hospital.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare made the announcement amid a shortage in staffing and available beds.

Idaho public health leaders announced Tuesday that they activated “crisis standards of care” allowing health care rationing for the state's northern hospitals because there are more coronavirus patients than the institutions can handle.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare quietly enacted the move Monday and publicly announced it in a statement Tuesday morning — warning residents that they may not get the care they would normally expect if they need to be hospitalized.

The move came as the state's confirmed coronavirus cases skyrocketed in recent weeks. Idaho has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S.

The state health agency 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 designation includes 10 hospitals and healthcare systems in the Idaho panhandle and in north-central Idaho. The agency said its goal is to extend care to as many patients as possible and to save as many lives as possible.

The move allows hospitals to allot scarce resources like intensive care unit rooms to patients most likely to 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.

Other states are preparing to take similar measures if needed. Hawaii Gov. David Ige quietly signed an order last week releasing hospitals and health care workers from liability if they have to ration health care.

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen made the decision to enact the crisis standards about 5 p.m. Monday after the state's Crisis Standards of Care Activation Advisory Committee determined that all other measures taken to help relieve staffing and bed shortages had been exhausted.

The designation will remain in effect until there are enough resources — including staffing, hospital beds and equipment or a drop in the number of patients — to provide normal levels of treatment to all.

More than 500 people were hospitalized statewide with COVID-19 on Sept. 1 — the most recent data available on the Department of Health and Welfare's website — and more than a third of them were in intensive care unit beds.

On Tuesday, the governor called the move to limit care “an unprecedented and unwanted point in the history of our state” and urged residents to get vaccinated against coronavirus.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.