The pandemic has driven many Americans to delay health care : Shots

Hospitals in Idaho, like St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center in Boise, remain full after the summer delta surge pushed many to their limits.

Kyle Green/AP


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Kyle Green/AP


Hospitals in Idaho, like St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center in Boise, remain full after the summer delta surge pushed many to their limits.

Kyle Green/AP

Last month, Chelsea Titus, a 40-year-old mother of one in Boise, Idaho, needed surgery to relieve severe pain from endometriosis. But hospitals there are so full of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients that doctors told her she’d have to wait.

Nearly 1 in 5 American households has had to delay care for serious illnesses in the past few months, according to a new poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Titus, who works for a tech company from the home she shares with her husband, her daughter and a labradoodle named Winston, previously had surgery for endometriosis in which doctors removed her uterus and one ovary. When the condition flared again in September, the pain was severe.

“Sometimes it feels like I am in active labor,” she says.

Endometriosis affects millions of women in the U.S. when tissue that typically grows inside the uterus also grows outside it.

When the initial medication that Titus received didn’t help, she reached out to her on-call doctor.

“He said, ‘If the hospitals weren’t in the situation they were in, I would have you in for surgery today,’ ” she recalls.

The safety net is gone

The situation in Idaho’s hospitals has become dire. The facilities are so full of mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients that many can no longer operate normally. Several hospitals have had to ration care.

Chelsea Titus

Chelsea Titus/Boise State Public Radio


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Chelsea Titus/Boise State Public Radio


Chelsea Titus

Chelsea Titus/Boise State Public Radio

Jim Souza, chief physician executive at the largest of Boise’s hospitals, St. Luke’s, describes his institution’s typical high standards of care as the net that allows doctors to perform high-wire medical acts every day.

But now, “the net is gone and the people will fall from the wire,” Souza says.

Idaho has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the United States.

“As cancer clinicians, we’re really frustrated,” says Dr. Dan Zuckerman, medical director for St. Luke’s Cancer Institute.

Zuckerman says his staff has delayed surgery

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