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What does Idaho's 'Crisis Standards of Care' mean for Washington hospitals?

As Washington hospitals approach capacity, patients from Idaho could be transferred in, but Washington is under no obligation to take them, according to the WSHA.

SEATTLE — After a request from overfilled and understaffed hospitals in the panhandle, Idaho has activated “Crisis Standards of Care.”

Under crisis standards, hospital beds, medicine, and equipment like ventilators may be given to those considered most likely to survive, not the most critical.

The goal is to save as many lives as possible while space is limited. Care is not guaranteed for everyone.

“They have over 200 national support personnel coming in to help them. Their hospital is 50% full of COVID-positive patients,” said Cassie Sauer, president of the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA). “It is an absolute gut-wrenching decision for anyone who works in health care to have to make. It is terrible. We do not want that to happen here.”

Hospitals are filling up in Washington state as well.

“I think it'd be really hard for the hospitals in Spokane, even as full as they are, who have very strong relationships with the hospitals in Idaho, to say no,” said Sauer. “This feels like an incredible ethical conundrum.”

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As Washington hospitals approach capacity, some patients from Idaho could be transferred to Washington state. But Washington is under no obligation to take them, according to the WSHA.

“It is each individual hospital's decision whether or not they take an out-of-state patient," explained Sauer. "But we have some special processes of the Washington Medical Coordination Center, and those only apply to patients... that are in a Washington state hospital. So that we are not... guaranteeing the help to anyone that's outside of Washington state."

The Washington Medical Coordination Center at Harborview Medical Center oversees facilitating transfers in the state, and it’s warning we could be nearing the point of “Crisis Standards of Care,” just like Idaho.

“In Washington, we are doing everything we possibly can to avoid that. But should we have to get to that point, we as a state are ready. There's active work going on all the time to make sure that we are prepared,” said Dr. Steve Mitchell with the Washington Medical Coordination Center.

Health care leaders are begging people to do what they can to prevent serious illness from COVID-19.

“Health care is not an unlimited resource. We have to be here for the good of all, not just ourselves,” said Peg Currie, chief operating officer for Providence Health Care in Spokane.

“I don't know the word to be able to use to plead with people to please do the things that you can to prevent this from occurring, which is getting vaccinated, wearing masks, it's really simple things,” said Mitchell.