BOISE — St. Luke’s has already exceeded morgue capacity in some facilities and, on Thursday, a week into Crisis Standards of Care, the hospital system hit a new high for patients hospitalized with COVID.
Often there are five-to-eight deaths every day in hospitals across the system, but the morgue isn’t the only thing being strained. Some St. Luke’s hospitals aren’t designed to pump the amount of oxygen currently needed for the surge into patients’ rooms.
“We’re running into a limit on that here in the Boise hospital. We’re working to expand our intensive care unit capacity,” said Frank Johnson, Chief Medical Officer, St. Luke’s Boise, Elmore and McCall. “But we’re going to hit a limit where we just can’t pump any more oxygen into those rooms.”
The health system hasn’t yet faced those challenges but is “pushing up against the brink.”
At the end of July, the health system had 30 patients. On Thursday, it was 315. The ICU capacity is at “all-time highs,” Johnson said. The deaths are also rising.
It’s hard to know when the surge will peak, said Laura McGeorge, St. Luke’s System Medical Director, Primary Care. The way surges work is cases increase, then hospitalizations, ICU hospitalizations and deaths.
On Thursday, the state department of health and welfare announced 57 new COVID-19 related deaths and 1,345 additional cases in Idaho
“This week compared to last week, I have noticed a slight decrease in the percent positives of patients, of our symptomatic patients we’re seeing who are coming in for COVID-19 testing,” McGeorge said.
The number was “extraordinarily high” last week, she said. Urgent care volumes have also slightly decreased, but she said she is unsure if it is a blip as there are other things in the community which can spread COVID-19.
“We won’t know for a couple of weeks if that’s meaningful or enough,” McGeorge said.
Vaccine rates are creeping up, Johnson said, but still only 41% of Idahoans are fully vaccinated. Hospital resources are stretched thin and some patients are sent to facilities like critical access hospitals to find space. Critical access hospitals are small, rural hospitals.
Many other patients spend weeks in the ICU, and ICU care is expensive.
“Patients who have been hospitalized with COVID, and it’s not like you get out of the hospital and you jump back into your normal life. It’s a long, long recovery,” Johnson said. “There’s people who are disabled...and they may be disabled for the rest of their life...huge cost for that.”
There’s a financial impact to families as well, if the breadwinner of the family dies or becomes disabled.
At the end of the day, prevention is what is most important, McGeorge said. She said she was seeing a higher mortality rate, but it’s unclear if that is due to the delta variant or if there are higher patient-to-nursing ratios.
“Of all times, now is not the time to get COVID-19,” McGeorge said. “Getting COVID now compared to getting COVID-19 this past spring is a different can of worms.”