Idaho News 6 got a rare perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday with a look inside the Saint Alphonsus Intensive Care Unit in Boise, where healthcare workers are feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and demoralized.
Inside Saint Alphonsus, and at hospitals across the state, ICUs are near capacity as hardworking doctors and nurses continue treating a record number of patients with severe side effects from COVID-19.
ICU Medical Director Dr. Meghan McInerney says a large majority of their patients are unvaccinated COVID positive.
“So in the ICU right next door, I just rounded on a 27-year-old female, COVID positive, unvaccinated, intubated,” Dr. McInerney said.
Patients getting younger
Doctors and nurses at Saint Alphonsus still see COVID-19 patients in their 60s and 70s, but during the current Delta surge, the average age of hospitalized patients is getting younger.
“The much more common ages that we’re seeing are 40s and 50s, and once in a while somebody in their 20s and 30s,” said McInerney.
As Dr. McInerney puts it, if you are sick enough to meet her, your outlook isn’t good. She can’t even count how many patients she’s personally seen pass away since the start of the pandemic, but now it’s happening on almost every shift.
Some patients will lose their battle with COVID-19 overwhelmed with regret, wishing they would have taken the pandemic seriously and gotten vaccinated. Others, even as their condition worsens in intensive care, continue to deny their diagnosis insisting COVID-19 is a hoax.
“I had a patient last week tell me it still wasn’t real,” registered nurse Dan Martin said. “It didn’t change anything that we did, I mean we’re still going to care for the patients.”
“There is a lot of negativity out there, a belief that we are somehow involved in a conspiracy theory with Fauci and big Pharma,” Dr. Carolyn McFarlane said. “And I definitely want to punch holes in that theory because our mainstay of therapy is cheap old steroids and we do not see extra kickbacks; there is no incentive to attribute a death to COVID. What we’re doing is trying to save lives.”
Impact on hospital, non-COVID care
It’s also important to note Saint Alphonsus serves as the trauma center for the entire region, receiving patients after accidents or injuries in need of surgery or life-saving treatments. That doesn’t change in the middle of a pandemic.
During our interview with Dr. Andrew Southard in the emergency department, a Code Blue was called in from the COVID ICU.
“So right now the Code team is mobilizing, we’ve got two physicians on it. So one of our physicians is going to take an ER nurse and a pharmacist and one of our techs. We go upstairs with our special equipment we have, and we can run a code, basically a ‘cardiac arrest’ anywhere in the hospital,” Dr. Southard said.
With the influx of patients comes a need for more space. Areas like storage rooms are now being used to treat up to six patients at a time.
A space that used to house patients immediately after standard surgeries is on the verge of being converted into another Intensive Care Unit.
While the additional space will help, these healthcare workers wish it wasn’t needed.
“No one is making it up, no one is doing it just for the money. We honestly would all prefer if COVID never happened,” Dr. Southard said.
To keep yourself out of the hospital, be smart. Stay safe. And seriously consider where you get your information. These health care heroes want to remind you, the pandemic isn’t over.
“Do you want to believe something you see posted on Facebook, or do you want to believe an ICU doctor who’s doing this every day, and has been doing this every day, since this started,” McInerney said.