Kootenai Health remains within crisis care standards despite staff support

Twenty-five handwritten letters.

This is what intensive care nurses at Kootenai Health did for a COVID-19 patient who refused to go on a ventilator.

The patient was too weak to write goodbye letters to family and friends, so the nurses did, said Emily Farness, a nurse at Coeur d’Alene Hospital.

The patient entered comfort care and eventually died from the virus.

“It’s hard to come to terms with emotionally,” Farness told reporters Wednesday.

Farness and her colleagues at Kootenai Health recently received reinforcements of federal contract workers who will fill vacant nursing, medical assistant and respiratory therapist positions as well as non-clinical positions.

Joan Simon, head nurse at Kootenai Health, said 70 workers from ACI Federal, a federal staffing agency, had arrived to help at Coeur d’Alene Hospital.

Kootenai Health has approximately 500 job openings, including 280 for clinical care staff.

Even with agency employees and the help of a Defense Department team, Kootenai Health will remain within crisis care standards until COVID cases abate, Simon said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 108 COVID patients were being treated for the virus at Kootenai Health, including 33 in the intensive care unit.

Kootenai Health has opened additional space for COVID patients in its resource center, a large conference center that had been used for education but now has nine COVID patients.

“What is surprising is the number of patients we see on a daily basis,” said Dr. Robert Scoggins, medical director of the intensive care unit at Kootenai Health.

The hospital admits 10 to 15 COVID patients every day.

The hospital has yet to see the expected influx of patients who have reportedly contracted the virus at the North Idaho Fair and local schools, where students are not required to wear masks, Scoggins said .

With Kootenai Health having slightly fewer COVID patients than last week and with additional staff support, the hospital is accepting more transfers from outlying areas.

Scoggins said the hospital has caught up with some of the most urgent surgeries that have been postponed.

Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 continue to be younger and the vast majority are not vaccinated, Kootenai Health caregivers said.

Farness described the treatment of people who are his peers and those in the community who thought they were healthy enough to beat the virus without a vaccine.

She has treated patients on ventilators who thought COVID-19 was all political or a hoax or just not that bad. They say, “I didn’t think it would be me sitting in that bed,” Farness said.

Some of those COVID patients she treats in the intensive care unit are texting family members and friends telling them to get the vaccine.

Farness said something she hears often is that people believe that if they eat healthy, take care of themselves, and exercise, they will be fine.

That’s fine, she said, but it’s not enough to stop the spread of the virus.

She asked community members to wear masks in public, get vaccinated and stay home when they are sick.

“It affects our whole community,” she said.

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