Idaho Gov. Brad Little

Gov. Brad Little again activated the National Guard on Tuesday to bring in additional medical personnel as part of what he described as a last-ditch effort to avoid activating statewide crisis standards of care.

The move will bring up to 370 people, including guardsmen and medical and administrative personnel, to help hospitals deal with the surge in COVID-19 cases.

“On a daily call with hospitals this morning, we heard there are only four standard adult ICU beds available in the entire state,” Little said. “Where hospitals have converted other spaces to be used as contingency ICU beds, those are filling up too. We are dangerously close to activating statewide crisis standards of care – a historic step that means Idahoans in need of health care could receive a lesser standard of care or may be turned away altogether.”

Little said in a streamed public announcement Tuesday that crisis standards means “in essence, someone would have to decide who can be treated and who cannot. This affects all of us, not just patients with COVID-19.”

Despite activating the National Guard and waiving licensing fees for inactive nurses returning to the field, Little said the only real long term solution is for more Idahoans to get the free COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Please choose to receive the vaccine now to protect lives, help our exhausted medical staff, keep health care access available to all of us, keep our workforce healthy, and keep our kids in school,” Little said.

Two of Idaho’s top Republican officials toured a Boise ICU unit Monday

The day before the National Guard announcement, Little and Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives Scott Bedke toured a Boise intensive care unit filled with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients Monday, a visit Bedke called powerful and sobering.

The small tour took place at St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center.

There, two of the state’s top elected officials were struck by how the hospital’s resources were tied up and how young and how sick the COVID-19 patients were.

“It was pretty powerful going through the ICU yesterday, and it was very sobering seeing the COVID patients receiving the critical care,” said Bedke, R-Oakley. “And not just the ones they are treating, but the ones in intensive care units are unvaccinated. And they are younger and some of them in are in tough shape, including pregnant mothers and young, otherwise healthy 30-year-olds who are on ventilators and in induced comas and have to be placed on their stomach for so many hours and on their back for so many hours.”

On Tuesday, the Idaho Capital Sun reported there are now more people hospitalized for COVID-19 than at any point in the pandemic. 

The elected officials met several young patients who were extremely sick. 

“What I saw was heartbreaking,” Little said during his streamed address. 

Little said he was told the average age of patients was 43.

At one point, Bedke watched a pregnant mother who was sick with COVID-19 participate in a FaceTime video chat with her children. Her husband, who was separated by glass from his wife, set up the video chat for the children back home.

“There was concern on the family’s faces,” Bedke said softly.

Another patient was a 30-year-old, otherwise healthy young adult.

“He was lying on his stomach with multiple intravenous bags, I think I counted six, to keep him comfortable,” Bedke siad. 

There were probably 35 other similar stories, Bedke added. 

Bedke said the traditional intensive care unit was full and several other rooms had been converted to ICU-type rooms to handle all of the COVID patients. Bedke and Little walked by the emergency room and encountered folks with injuries unrelated to COVID, such as bicycle crashes or accidents.

“But 80%, I would say, of all rooms were COVID-related these were sick people, and they are all unvaccinated,” Bedke, who is vaccinated, said. 

Bedke was struck by how tied up all of the hospital resources were. 

“Our numbers are higher now than they were last spring and higher than they were last winter, so it’s starting to tie up our health care capacity,” Bedke said.  

Although the experience sobering, Bedke walked away with renewed respect for health care workers

“I cant say enough good about the staff over there. They caring, they are concerned, they are professional and I was very impressed by the staff and the way they are carrying out their jobs,” Bedke said.

Bedke said Monday’s tour was small and there were not other legislators participating. However, he said if other legislators are interested in a similar tour he would try to help arrange it.  

“If we’re going to make proper decisions, I think it is incumbent on elected officials to gather as much information as we can,” Bedke said. 

Will the Idaho House reconvene to address vaccine requirements?

Three large health care providers, St. Luke’s Health System, Saint Alphonsus Health System and Primary Health Medical Group, are requiring staff to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by September. St Luke’s deadline is Wednesday and Primary Health’s is Sept. 9, while Saint Al’s deadline is staggered.

This summer, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and some of the state’s more conservative legislators called for Bedke to reconvene the Idaho House to stop companies from requiring employees to get the vaccine or otherwise address the vaccine requirement.

Bedke has pushed back against writing laws to ban employers from requiring vaccines. So far, instead of pushing for legislation, Bedke favored meeting with health care providers. He said he has had several such meetings. 

“I don’t think it’s the government’s job to get in the middle of employer/employee contacts,” Bedke said Tuesday.

“Having said that, I understand completely the reluctance of some of getting a vaccination. This has been hyped one way and hyped the other. I understand the deep concerns there. But when government tries to hamper the ability of private businesses to provide the best, safest care to the public, I also see that side as well. These people are not trying to do anything other than provide a safe environment for patients.”

However, Bedke did leave the door open for calling the House back under certain circumstances. He also points out the House has to come back before Dec. 31 to close the books on the session. 

In May, the Idaho House voted to take an extended recess rather than adjourn the longest legislative session in state history, leaving open the option of returning to Boise. The Idaho Senate, on the other hand, did adjourn for the year in May. There is some confusion over where things stand because traditionally both legislative chambers adjourn at the same time or within a couple days of each other. 

Bedke said he could call the Idaho House back if someone writes a proposed bill addressing vaccine requirements that already has enough support to pass both the House and Senate. That means 36 votes in the House and 18 in Senate.

“Otherwise we’re going to come here with an open-ended agenda, and we’re going to waste the taxpayers’ money for days, if not weeks, and that is not the proper use of taxpayers’ money,” Bedke said.

While Bedke continued to leave the door open for reconvening the House to address vaccine requirements, he said he would not call legislators back to deal with school issues or tax policy. Those topics, he said, can wait until January when the Legislature reconvenes.

This story is republished with permission from Idaho Capital Sun, part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Contact Editor Christine Lords for questions: [email protected]