'Their crisis is becoming our problem': Washington hospitals hit with Idaho COVID-19 surge

Some hospitals in Washington are experiencing an influx of COVID-19 patients from neighboring Idaho, where crisis standards of care for hospitals are currently activated for the state's northern region, according to The New York Times.

"As they've seen increasing COVID volumes, we've seen increasing calls for help from all over northern Idaho," Daniel Getz, DO, chief medical officer for Spokane, Wash.-based Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, told the Times. 

Washington state has implemented an indoor mask mandate and quarantine requirements for students exposed to the virus. Next door, Idaho residents aren't under such mandates.  

"If you have your healthcare system melting down, the idea that you would not immediately issue a mask mandate is just bizarre," said Cassie Sauer, president and CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association. "They need to be doing everything they can possibly do."

Idaho activated crisis standards of care Sept. 6 for hospitals in the state's northern region after Kootenai Health in Coeur d'Alene requested they be implemented. A state committee recommended the move after determining that staffing shortages had severely hindered hospitals' ability to provide the usual standard of care and that all other contingency measures had been exhausted. The activation affects 10 hospitals and will remain in effect until hospitals have sufficient resources to provide the usual standard of care to all patients.

Idaho now has more than 600 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, about 20 percent higher than its previous peak in December, reports the Times. Only 40 percent of Idaho residents are fully vaccinated, compared to 61 percent of residents in Washington. Washington is also facing record hospitalizations, with transfers from Idaho pushing some hospitals close to capacity. 

Last week, 29 patients at Providence Sacred Heart were from Idaho. The number of patients from Kootenai Health alone rose 34 percent in August, reports the Times. Tacoma, Wash.-based MultiCare Health System, which has a hospital in Spokane, is also reporting an increase in calls for support from Idaho, with capacity issues forcing them to deny some requests.

"We certainly need our friends in Idaho government to do more to preserve their citizens' health, because we know that their crisis is becoming our problem," Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said last week. "I'm asking the people of Idaho to adopt some of the safety measures — like masking requirements — like we have in Washington so we can help both of our states reduce this horrible pandemic."

Idaho Republican Gov. Brad Little's office told the Times he wasn't available for an interview. In recent weeks, Mr. Little said he wanted residents "to choose to do the right thing and get vaccinated." He issued a Sept. 10 statement saying he was exploring legal action to halt President Joe Biden's mandate that will require federal employees to get vaccinated.

"President Biden is out of touch, and his mandates only add to the divisiveness within our country," Mr. Little said.

Providence Sacred Heart has started canceling elective procedures, currently performing only those that are urgent, Dr. Getz said.  

"We are delaying care for people who are in misery," Dr. Getz said. "It's agonizing for those patients. This has real impacts on these people who are waiting."


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