A reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Thank a healthcare worker today

Last Tuesday at our weekly press briefing, we were fortunate to have Dr. Jim Souza, chief physician executive at St. Luke’s Health System, as our guest. One of the reporters asked him what we can do as citizens of Idaho to help our hospitals and our communities. His answer resonated with me, and I hope you feel the same.

He reminded us that the healthcare workers are under extreme stress, and we should thank them with our actions. We should all get vaccinated. We should all wear a mask. And, we should all “be brave … be the one setting the example” for others. I would encourage all of us to think about the crushing weight that this pandemic has on our healthcare workers. They are watching their patients struggle to breathe, and even die, often more than once a day. If it is hard to hear this, imagine how hard it is to watch.

We owe them our gratitude, and we have a responsibility to them and our communities to do what we can to remain safe and keep others safe from COVID-19.

If you weren’t able to listen to the media briefing:

The numbers are still going in the wrong direction. As of Sept. 18, the number of COVID-19 patients in the ICUs and using ventilators across the state is the highest it has ever been. There are nearly twice as many patients needing ventilators (112) when compared to the previous peak of the pandemic.

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A call to action from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: The best defense we have against COVID-19 is the vaccine

If you have been watching the news or if you tuned into our media briefing, the message is clear: as citizens, we have a responsibility to protect our neighbors, family, and friends in our community including healthcare workers and healthcare systems in Idaho.

The healthcare workers are stressed. Once again, they are seeing their emergency rooms and intensive care units fill up with COVID-19 patients. This isn’t easy for them, knowing that most of this could have been prevented with the COVID-19 vaccine.

The healthcare systems are also stressed, and in many cases, they are seeking assistance from state and federal resources. The primary issue is staffed beds. There have to be healthcare workers to take care of the patients, and there are not enough healthcare workers to staff the beds available in the state. If healthcare workers are not available, the hospitals cannot take patients.

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Mosquito and tick bites can lead to serious illness

Mosquitoes and ticks can carry some pretty serious bugs, like bacteria and viruses. It’s important to do everything you can to avoid getting bitten.

Tick- and mosquito-borne diseases can vary by region in the United States. Besides West Nile virus, are there other insect-borne diseases we should be informed about in Idaho?

Before you head into the outdoors, or even into your backyard, you should learn more about the diseases associated with local ticks and mosquitoes. In Idaho, public health officials are most concerned about West Nile virus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, tick-borne relapsing fever, and tularemia.

What about Lyme disease?

We often hear about Lyme disease in the national media, but cases in Idaho are rare and typically only occur in people who have traveled to other areas of the country, such as the eastern and midwestern states, where infected ticks have been found. The tick that carries Lyme disease is not known to live in Idaho. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about the risks of insect bites in a different state or country.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Idaho’s state epidemiologist, Dr. Christine Hahn, recognized nationally for her work

Congratulations to Dr. Christine Hahn

I’d like to offer a heartfelt congratulations to Dr. Christine Hahn, Division of Public Health medical director and state epidemiologist. As you likely know, her leadership, expertise, and guidance during the pandemic has been critical to Idaho’s success in slowing the spread of COVID-19. In acknowledgement of her extraordinary contributions as Idaho’s epidemiologist for nearly 25 years, she was presented Thursday with the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists Pumphandle Award, which is a coveted, annual award for outstanding achievement in the field of applied epidemiology.

Here’s an excerpt from the letter that describes some of Dr. Hahn’s career highlights:

“Although an infectious disease physician by training, Dr. Hahn has not limited her work to infectious and communicable disease epidemiology. She has provided expertise for an impressive wide variety of epidemiologic investigations in Idaho ranging from studying blood lead levels of children living in the Bunker Hill Superfund Site area of Idaho (to collaborating on the Idaho Cancer Cluster Analysis Work Group to study brain cancer clusters in Idaho. Dr. Hahn is responsible for implementing two public health programs in the last 5 years: Idaho’s Expanded Access Program created to make Epidiolex© available to children suffering from seizures as part of FDA clinical trials and Idaho’s Drug Overdose Prevention Program to address the opioid crisis.”

We are grateful for her dedication to public health, and we are lucky to be able to work so closely with her during this pandemic.

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An update from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: We are focused on protecting our children, youth, and vulnerable adults

DHW’s Living Strategic Plan: A year of progress toward Goal 2 – Protecting children, youth, and vulnerable adults

As the department continues to develop our five-year Strategic Plan, which we will submit to the Division of Financial Management in July, we have also been able to take a few moments to reflect on the journey behind us. When we look over the completed tasks and challenges overcome over the past year, we feel we have cause to celebrate how far we have come in helping Idahoans to live their best lives.

Today’s post is the second in a four-part series highlighting the department’s progress toward our mission and the goals we have committed to in our Strategic Plan. In this blog post, I would like to take the opportunity to highlight some of the key achievements over the past year that have been accomplished as part of Strategic Goal 2: Protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults. In a difficult year, the importance of this goal has never been more apparent. Our staff have worked diligently to make sure that Idaho’s children, youth, and vulnerable adults are protected – especially during such a challenging time for all of us.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: A year of progress toward affordable, available healthcare that works

DHW’s Living Strategic Plan: A year of progress toward ensuring affordable, available healthcare that works

Each year, the Department of Health and Welfare (DHW), along with all other State of Idaho agencies, submits a five-year Strategic Plan to the Division of Financial Management. Our Strategic Plan is our roadmap. We use it as a tool to define and share who we are as an agency, what our goals are, and how we plan to get there. We are currently in the process of making our final reflections on our 2021 – 2025 plan, as we work toward the publication of our 2022 – 2026 Strategic Plan in July.

Over the past year, we have worked hard to take our roadmap one step further in our mission of strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. We have reimagined our Strategic Plan as a “living” document – imagine, rather than the old days of a printed MapQuest page, we are now in the age of a GPS Google Map that follows our progress in real time and allows us to problem-solve and find new opportunities as we move forward on our journey.

The department’s leadership team has led this effort towards a living Strategic Plan by never letting the dust settle; we take our plan off the shelf each week to review our progress as a department, and we work as a team to set and achieve ambitious accountability targets throughout the year.

In this blog post, I would like to take the opportunity to highlight and celebrate some of the key achievements over the past year that have been accomplished as part of the first of our four strategic goals. Throughout June, I will continue this reflection with blog posts focusing on our second, third, and fourth strategic goals.

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As Idaho rebounds from pandemic, effects on mental health, substance use remain

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. More than a year after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Idaho has reached Stage 4 of the Idaho Rebounds reopening guidelines, Idahoans are still struggling from stress and feel overwhelmed by the trauma that the pandemic brought.

A survey of adults conducted in 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed nearly double the rates of self-reported behavioral health symptoms than would have been expected before the pandemic, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, including:

  • 31 percent of respondents reported symptoms of anxiety or depression
  • 13 percent reported having started or increased substance use
  • 26 percent reported stress-related symptoms
  • 11 percent reported having serious thoughts of suicide in the past 30 days

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Division of Behavioral Health provides a range of services for eligible people struggling with mental illness or addiction (substance use disorder) issues, including specific programs for people impacted directly or indirectly by the pandemic.

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COVID-19 Q&A: COVID-19 and long-term-care facilities


Q: When will the state allow long-term care facilities to open up visitation?

A:  There are currently no state regulations limiting visitation in long-term care facilities. Nursing homes must follow the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) visitation guidance for nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. DHW has published similar visitation guidance and best practices for assisted living and intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities (ICFs/IID) under the Long-Term-Care tab at coronavirus.idaho.gov

Actual visitation policies are set by each facility and may vary, depending on the circumstances. If a facility is not currently having an outbreak of COVID-19, then it will have more relaxed visitation policies in place. If there are cases of COVID-19 in a facility, then we would expect that facility to have restrictions in place until the outbreak has been closed. That could take at least 28 days, because an outbreak in a long-term care facility is considered resolved after 28 days without any new cases of COVID-19.  

If you have questions about visitation policies, you should direct them to the facility itself.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Idaho’s vaccine distribution plan

Coming up at 10 a.m. Wednesday: Facebook Live with Sarah Leeds, manager of the Idaho Immunization Program. Send your vaccine distribution questions ahead of time to Communications@dhw.idaho.gov or watch live on Wednesday and type your vaccine distribution questions into the comments. We will answer as many on-topic questions as we can until 10:25, when Sarah has to join another meeting. We’ll consider off-topic questions for future FB Live events. Join us!

Q: When is COVID-19 vaccine arriving in Idaho and how many doses will the state get initially?

A: COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech is arriving in Idaho this week, and by the end of the week the state is expecting to have received all or most of our initial allotment of 13,650 doses of the ultra-cold vaccine. The initial shipments are for healthcare workers, and then later this month, residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

Q: Who gets COVID-19 vaccine first?

A: Phase 1a includes healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Skilled nurses and those working in assisted living and intermediate care facilities are counted as healthcare workers in this phase.

More specifically, the initial shipment of vaccine is destined for hospital staff and outpatient clinic staff who provide care for COVID-19 patients. The facilities will determine a schedule for their workers.

The Idaho COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee (CVAC) has made recommendations on which populations should be prioritized for Phase 1b. The decision will ultimately be made by Gov. Brad Little.

CVAC is recommending that Phase 1b of the vaccination plan include essential workers not included in Phase 1a. CVAC is recommending the following types of essential workers be prioritized for vaccination in Phase 1b in the following order:

  • First responders, including fire, police, protective services and community support personnel.
  • Pre-K-12 school staff and teachers and daycare workers
  • Correctional and detention facility staff, except medical staff already in Phase 1a
  • Food processing workers
  • Grocery and convenience store workers
  • Idaho National Guard
  • Other essential workers not already included and unable to telework or social distance at work

The list of recommended priority groups can be found on the coronavirus website at https://coronavirus.idaho.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/CVAC-Prioritization-for-HCP-and-Essential-Workers.pdf

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: A reminder on to safely celebrate the upcoming holidays and an update on our strategic plan

How are you preparing for the upcoming holidays? If you are like me, you are looking forward to decorating the tree, seeing the light displays in your neighborhood, pumpkin pie, and spending time with family.

I want each of you to enjoy the upcoming season. And even more than that, I want everyone to be safe during their holiday celebrations. I know we all want to spend the holidays with our families. And, I know we also want to keep our loved ones safe and healthy.

What we know today is that most of the new COVID-19 cases in Idaho are coming from smaller gatherings. These gatherings create transmissible moments as families and friends spend time in close proximity to one another.

The Centers for Disease Control and Preventions gives numerous tips on how to celebrate safety. I hope you will take time to review them as you plan for the holiday season. And, keep reading my blog for ideas and reminders about the holidays.

Making progress toward Strategic Goal 2: Protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults

Finding safe, permanent homes for children who have experienced abuse or neglect is a top priority for the work we do at the Department of Health and Welfare (DHW). Children who have experienced trauma need and deserve permanency in their living situations in order to heal, develop, and thrive. Lack of permanency and stability is detrimental to children’s sense of safety, security, and overall well-being.

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