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'Very disheartening': Kootenai Health reports highest number of monthly COVID-19 deaths

The hospital said 34 of its COVID-19 patients have died in September, much more than normally die of one disease in a given month.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Kootenai Health leaders said the hospital reached a grim milestone in September, with the hospital reporting a record 34 COVID-19 deaths throughout the month.

Kootenai Health Chief of Staff Dr. Robert Scoggins said that the hospital doesn't normally see that many deaths in a month for any single disease.

The hospital was treating 115 COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, with 41 needing critical care and 17 on ventilators. According to Kootenai Health Executive Vice President Dr. Jeremy Evans, this marks more than two straight weeks of the hospital treating more than 110 COVID-19 patients.

"I never thought that we would get to this point to where we had this many COVID patients in an ICU setting when we thought about these plans over a year ago," Scoggins said.

With a positivity rate hovering at about 25%, Scoggins said he expects hospitalizations to remain high. Doctors are also reporting more cases of severe illness caused by COVID-19 at Kootenai Health, and the current surge has also led to more deaths in young people.

"Very disheartening," Scoggins said. "Very surprising, I'm trying to choose the right word. I've signed a lot of death certificates in the last couple months, and a lot of death certificates of young people that I don't think should have been hospitalized. I think that, you know, this, in my mind, is a very preventable disease."

Patients at the hospital are still being treated in non-traditional areas, and federal resources that have already been deployed to Kootenai Health will remain until at least November. The hospital also announced it will be shutting down its monoclonal antibody treatment center to free up resources after Heritage Health opened a site at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds.

Idaho Governor Brad Little visited the site on Wednesday morning, where Heritage Health can treat six people at a time and up to 48 people a day. The site was booked until at least this Friday, leaders said, with the site running three days a week.

To get treated at the site, people must have a referral from their healthcare provider, they must have tested positive for COVID-19, and they need to be showing symptoms of COVID-19.

While visiting the site, Little spoke about how helpful the site was in keeping people out of the hospital, with Heritage Health saying that none of the patients they've treated at the site so far have ended up being hospitalized. Little also said they "didn't want to go to Crisis Standards of Care," adding the situation in North Idaho was still tight.

"If you get into a bad car wreck or you have a heart attack, you're going to get care, but it's close right now," Little said. "What you're not going to get is the elective or discretionary surgery that's necessary, and we just can't do that for very long and that's why what Heritage is doing up here is so important."

With more young people dying and high patient capacities continuing, the situation is taking a toll on local health care workers.

"They're patients that we get to know. They do spend many days in the ICU, and we do everything we can to get them better and get them out," Scoggins said. "But unfortunately, as we've learned with COVID, sometimes we were unsuccessful in that."

Little said while visiting the fairgrounds that the key to getting out of the current COVID-19 surge, even with the availability of monoclonal antibody treatments, is to get vaccinated.