St. Peter's Health Moves to Contingency Standards of Care and Expresses Concern about New Variant

December 20, 2021

St. Peter's Health announced today that it is no longer under crisis standards of care. Instead, the local health care system describes operations as contingency standards of care, a step down from crisis standards of care, but still not operations as usual. St. Peter's Health declared it was under crisis standards of care in mid-September 2021, as the 99-acute bed facility faced an unprecedented surge of patients experiencing complications from COVID-19. 

"Our move away from crisis standards of care is not an on/off switch, it is more like a dimmer switch as the situation on the ground changes," said St. Peter's Chief Medical Officer and President of the Regional Medical Center, Dr. Shelly Harkins. "Our status can change quickly based on the current number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19, staffing, availability of other resources like medications, and more." 

St. Peter's leaders decided to change the designation based on several factors, but the significant reduction of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 drove the change.

According to St. Peter's COVID-19 Response Team Public Information Officer Katie Gallagher, "recently, we've seen under 10 community members hospitalized with COVID-19 at St. Peter's each day. During the height of the pandemic in fall 2021, we saw many weeks with 20-30 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 each day, peaking at 44 on a single day in mid-October, which represented over 50 percent of our adult, inpatient medical beds." 

The 2020 Crisis Standards of Care document from the State of Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services helps guide health care providers in times of resource scarcity. The guidance puts health care resources into four primary buckets: space, staffing, standard of care and supplies.

According to Dr. Harkins, "St. Peter's is currently not facing the space or supply constraints we saw just a few weeks ago." However, the local health care organization is still facing significant staffing challenges in all areas. "We are not immune to the current workforce shortages in health care and most industries. The dedicated caregivers who are with us are working exceptionally hard to continue to care for our community, going above and beyond in many ways to ensure we can keep all services open and provide high-quality health care around the clock."

St. Peter's leaders underscore that the COVID-19 situation remains highly fluid. All COVID-19 precautions remain in place at St. Peter's Health facilities, including universal masking and visitor limitations (available online at The organization is cautiously optimistic as COVID-19 case numbers, the COVID-19 test positivity rate, and local hospitalizations decrease. However, the organization is concerned about the emergence and spread of the new omicron variant. The variant is spreading rapidly in Europe and public health officials in the U.S. and across the world are sounding the alarm. 

"We are learning new things about the omicron variant every day," said St. Peter's Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Anne Anglim. "There are certain things that we know for certain, like the fact that it is the most contagious variant we've seen so far, significantly more contagious than the Delta variant. The sheer infectiousness of the virus and the number of people who may become seriously ill at the same time could quickly once again overwhelm hospitals in Montana."

According to Dr. Anglim, in addition to basic precautions, the most important thing that people can do right now is get vaccinated against COVID-19. It is not the time to become complacent.

“Get your first dose if you haven't. Make time to get your second dose if you've put it off. And importantly, if you're eligible, get the booster dose as soon as possible,” said Dr. Anglim.

St. Peter's reminds the community that around 17,000 Lewis and Clark County residents are eligible to receive their booster dose of the COVID-19. Booster dose eligibility was expanded recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and now includes anyone 16+ who received the Pfizer vaccine series at least six months ago and anyone 18+ who received the Moderna vaccine at least six months ago. Anyone who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine two months ago can now receive a booster dose, including a dose of an mRNA vaccine. 

St. Peter's Health also encourages community members to take basic precautions like masking indoors and staying home when sick unless seeking medical care or COVID-19 testing. Vaccination appointments are available five days a week at St. Peter's Broadway Clinic by appointment for anyone five years of age or older at