Idaho's top health official has deactivated crisis guidelines for rationing care at most of the state's hospitals.
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen issued the decision Monday after health officials said the number of COVID-19 patients remains high but no longer exceeds healthcare resources in most areas. Crisis standards remain in effect for northern Idaho.
Jeppesen and other healthcare officials during a news conference warned of possible future outbreaks.
"We are not sharing a 'mission accomplished' message," said James Souza, chief medical officer for St. Luke's Health System. "We don't believe this will be our last surge of COVID. We hope it's the worst one."
Crisis standards of care give legal and ethical guidelines to healthcare providers when they have too many patients and not enough resources to care for them all. They spell out exactly how healthcare should be rationed to save the most lives possible during a disaster.
Idaho activated the crisis standards for northern Idaho on Sept. 7, and statewide on Sept. 16. Officials didn't have a timeline for when crisis standards might be lifted in the northern Idaho district, which covers five counties and includes Kootenai Health in Coeur d'Alene.
Health officials said it will take time to catch up on routine surgeries that have been put off. They also said they expect that people who have been afraid to seek treatment due to the crisis standards will finally come in and discover they need surgeries as well.
"It will be some time before healthcare systems return to full, normal operations," Jeppesen said. "It will also take time for the healthcare systems to work through the many delayed surgeries and other delayed treatments."
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Jeppesen convened the Crisis Standards of Care Activation Advisory Committee on Friday to review the situation, the agency said. The committee determined most healthcare systems could move back to contingency operations.
The agency said the deactivation process began when health care systems started individually reporting they had moved to contingency operations instead of crisis standards.
Health officials were cautious about making any predictions about the future of the pandemic, other than noting that getting more people vaccinated would help.
"I think there is a light at the end of the tunnel," said Patrice Burgess, executive medical director at Saint Alphonsus in Boise. "I don't know yet when exactly that is, but I do think we'll get there."
Nearly 4,000 Idaho residents have died due to COVID-19 since the pandemic entered the state in spring 2020, state officials report.