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Despite slight dip in COVID-19 patients, leaders say morale at Kootenai Health suffering

On Wednesday, Kootenai Health was caring for 122 COVID-19 patients, down from their record of 150 patients.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Kootenai Health was treating 122 COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, 41 of which were in the ICU and at least 12 were on ventilators.

This is a slight dip from the hospital's record of 150 COVID-19 patients, but even with the drop in COVID-positive patients, the situation at the hospital is still dire.

"I think it's good that we have less COVID patients in the hospital at this point," said Dr. Robert Scoggins, Kootenai Health's Chief of Staff. "But I still want to make everyone aware that that's still kind of a ridiculous number of patients that we have in the hospital that are COVID positive."

Scoggins said the dip or plateau in patients is likely due to events like the start of the school year and the North Idaho Fair being further in the rearview mirror. He added that he was worried about the upcoming holidays, and that the average hospital stay for a COVID-19 patient that needs ICU care is 10 days, while those that just need acute care stay for five to seven days.

Scoggins also said the hospital still isn't doing elective surgeries and is still operating under crisis standards of care. The high number of patients has caused the hospital to basically run four intensive care units - one non-COVID ICU, one non-COVID overflow ICU, and two COVID ICUs. 

These impacts aren't just limited to Kootenai Health. Scoggins said it has led to delays in Kootenai Health accepting patients from more rural clinics and critical access hospitals, adding that we may never know the full extent of the impact caused by the surge in COVID-19 patients.

"I really don't know, in the end, if we'll ever know how many people in this area have died, because inability to get care, especially in some of these critical access hospitals," Scoggins said. "When you delay care significantly, to get those patients transferred, they're already quite a ways away from a major medical center, and you delay it by a day or so, that could affect the outcomes in those patients. Sometimes, even hours affect the outcomes in those patients."

The impact isn't just limited to the level of care the hospital is able to provide. The surge has taken a toll on the morale of frontline healthcare workers.

"We're very much focusing on the morale of our healthcare workers," said Dr. Karen Cabell, Kootenai Health's Chief Physician Executive. "We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has stretched our health care workers beyond any way we ever imagined."

Leaders at the hospital said this isn't just caused by the worry of being infected or spreading COVID-19 to their families, but also due to the trauma of what they've witnessed when treating patients. Cabell and Scoggins said the hospital is trying to provide resources to their healthcare workers to boost spirits. Those include things such as extra meals, providing gifts and awards to staff, and giving out thank you letters the hospital has received from the community.