Hospitals near state borders feeling brunt of COVID-19 overcrowding

Crowded Covid Units
Posted at 11:21 AM, Oct 06, 2021

SPOKANE, Wash. — With some states seeing their hospital COVID-19 units reach max capacity, many are sending patients across state lines for care, making it difficult for those hospitals to care for their communities.

That's especially true of hospitals near the border of Washington and Idaho.

"This is the worst case of hospitalizations we've experienced since the start of the pandemic," said Dr. Dan Getz, the chief medical officer of Providence Medical Center in Spokane, Washington.

Washington state is seeing its own surge of coronavirus cases. But in neighboring Idaho, 20 miles away from Spokane, COVID-19 has already pushed hospitals beyond their limits.

"It is not uncommon right now for our hospitals to have their total capacity from 30% to 80% hospital capacity be taken up by COVID patients," said Toni Lawson, the vice president of the Idaho Hospital Association.

Across the country, state border towns like Spokane face COVID-19 unit capacity problems after being forced to take in patients from across a large region due to hospital overcrowding.

"And that's the challenge we're starting to have — we're being stretched as nurses," said Luke Eckoff, a nurse in the ICU covid unit at Multicare Deaconess Hospital in Spokane. "You're in a patient's room that's crashing, and then that third patient starts crashing as well, and it presents a very dangerous situation."

Getz said hospitals in Spokane, Washington are taking in patients from Idaho, and those transfers are pushing them toward capacity limits, leaving hospitals scrambling for options. He said his hospitals have had to pause some surgeries to create space.

"Idaho is currently in crisis standards of care where they basically said, 'We can't deliver normal care for people in our state,' and they're looking at rationalizing things," Getz said. "We are not in that crisis in Washington state — however, if we continue to see increasing cases and we are not able to care for our community, that's always a potential."

At Multicare Deaconess Hospital in Spokane, the staff says they are spread thin.

"Flight teams are bringing patients from outlying hospitals — and that's putting more strain on us," Eckoff said. "These rural hospitals don't have the capacity we do to take care of these patients. What that's doing is putting further pressure on our hospital and resources. It's hard at the end of the day when you have to put that patient in the body bag. And that's happening more and more."

Lawson with the Idaho State Hospital association said the way to solve this problem without affecting neighboring states is by getting more people vaccinated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regions with vaccination rates above 60% do not have extreme levels of hospitalizations.

"We have hospitals that have converted conference rooms into patient care units," Lawson said. "We have been consistently pushing vaccines. Our hospitals have stepped up to do vaccine clinics to do vaccine campaigns. In north Idaho, it's not uncommon for patients to be transported to Spokane. Right now, Spokane is also at capacity and not able to take those patients. Minutes count, and if we have to transfer you to a completely different town or city or another state, we lost minutes."