Besst: Health care system remains vulnerable

Nov. 4—Gritman Medical Center CEO Kara Besst said Wednesday night that patients suffering with a heart attack or injuries from a car accident may continue to have difficulties finding a hospital that can care for them.

During a panel discussion on the community's response to COVID-19, she said the hospitals they usually transfer patients to are full. Intensive care for heart and head injuries is typically beyond the scope of practice at rural hospitals like Gritman.

"If we needed to transfer that patient to those other hospitals, it would be challenging," Besst said. "We are transferring patients further than we've ever transferred."

Besst said staffing issues have provided a new twist. According to Besst, many healthcare workers are leaving the profession.

The industry was already facing a shortage of physicians and nurses prior to the pandemic.

"We are seeing our staff either retiring, traveling or picking a different career," she said. "I think that's going to be challenging, from a healthcare perspective, to encourage people to go into the field. Especially when at the beginning of the pandemic, health care workers were seen as heroes and now they're being seen as villains."

At the discussion, hosted by the University of Idaho Economics Club, Moscow Mayor Bill Lambert also commented on the vulnerability of the healthcare community and encouraged people watching to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

He added that while vaccine requirements are certainly not against the constitution, he wouldn't be in favor of one for the city of Moscow.

"The quickest, safest tool we have available to us is the vaccine," Lambert said. "I am in no way a medical professional, but from my point of view, getting the vaccine is the smartest thing you can do."

Regarding masks and mandates, Lydia McRoberts, director of legislative affairs for the Associated Students University of Idaho, recounted a four-hour meeting last week where students debated ditching the face covering requirement in certain buildings on campus.

"Students want to be heard and they deserve to be heard," McRoberts said.

When she compares the response to the pandemic from student government last year to where it is now, she believes they've been able to give students a stronger voice on campus.

"We're much more certain of ourselves," she said. "We definitely have found a voice on campus in a more substantial way than we did one year ago."

A question for the audience was targeted at a panelist from Washington State University. Would WSU enrollment numbers improve if classes were fully in person with no masking?

Hailey Rupp, director of strategic management and communications at WSU, said based on vaccination rates among the students on campus, she didn't think the added requirements have impacted enrollment.

"Across the board, enrollment is down," Rupp said. "It's a nationwide trend. I think the bigger issue is, what's the future of higher education?"

Palermo can be reached at or on Twitter @apalermotweets.

"We are seeing our staff either retiring, traveling or picking a different career. ... Health care workers were seen as heroes and now they're being seen as villains."

Kara Besst, Gritman Medical Center CEO