Idaho medical leaders battling misinformation while healthcare workers face crisis standards of care

Idaho medical leaders say the consequences of misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines are tragic and avoidable.

BOISE, Idaho — With the implementation of crisis standards of care comes the understanding that health services may look different. Dr. Jim Souza, the Chief Physician Executive for St. Luke’s Health System, said crisis standards are a spectrum Idaho has just entered and so far, resources are not being taken away from patients to give them to other patients but instead standards have been lowered across the board.

“If we have to continue doing that, we will find ourselves at a point where we are forced to make decisions to take resources from one in order to give to another for a better chance of survival,” Dr. Souza said.  “None of us are doing well with that, it often brings healthcare professionals to tears talking about doing that.”

During the crisis standards of care news conference on Thursday, Idaho medical leaders agreed that misinformation about COVID-19 has powered the crisis we find ourselves in. Dr. Souza said his frustration is centered on those spreading misinformation to people who then end up very sick. The challenge is competing with a reality seen through rose-colored lenses.

“They are putting their faith in them when they are feeling well and the reason for that is because it feeds their confirmation bias. They are selling a really attractive message and the message is something like this: everything is going to be okay, there is nothing bad going on, look here not there, trust me, take this and nothing bad will happen to you, you don’t need to do anything differently just keep as you are and you’ll be fine. It’s a harder message to say, we will be fine, and we have to do a few things differently. We need to, when we have a surge this big in the community, maybe not be in as big of a group, maybe wear a mask, and definitely, we need to talk about being vaccinated,” Souza said.  

The consequences of the situation are already morbid and tragic, St. Luke’s said they now have to extend their morgue space because of the COVID death toll. That extra space will help relieve some issues, but it doesn’t change what frontline healthcare workers have watched in recent days and weeks.

“For a while, and this is why we are making this increased capacity, we had patients who expired from COVID who we couldn’t move out of the room because we didn’t have a place to put the body and then we had a patient in the emergency department who needed their room who we couldn’t put up in the room because we couldn’t move the body out of the room. It just all backs up,” Souza said.  “Not only do we not have enough space to put our dead but once we do put deceased people’s bodies in our morgues, the funeral homes aren’t able to handle retrieving those bodies timely enough because they are backed up.”

All of this has taken an indescribable toll on frontline healthcare workers across Idaho. For nearly 18 months, they have worked day in and day out dealing with very sick COVID-19 patients trying to keep as many people alive as possible. Leaders across Idaho continue to remind us, the healthcare community needs our support. Dr. Souza said to all healthcare workers, you are valued, you are crucial.

“I see you, I hear you, I admire you, I acknowledge this is a preventable tragedy and we are called to serve and thank you so much for answering the call. That’s my message to healthcare workers,” Souza said.      

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Christin Hakim

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