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Health Watch: Alaskan Hospitals discuss reaching max capacity due to COVID-19

Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 4:20 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association (ASHNHA) met this week for a press conference to discuss the current situation facing Alaska’s hospitals, which are nearing max capacity.

According to Jared Kosin, President and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, many hospitals across Alaska, primarily in Anchorage, are facing COVID-19 hospitalization levels not seen since December of 2020. “I want to start by saying that we do not do this lightly. Frankly, we don’t do press conferences. This is the second press conference ASHNHA has held in at least the 10 plus years, if ever, as an association. The last time we did this was in November, right before the peak surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations. Today, why we’re here right now, many of Alaska’s hospitals, especially our highest care settings in Anchorage, are at or near capacity. In one respect, hospitals are not built or designed to be that full - and if these were normal times, we would not be talking. But unfortunately these are not normal times. At this very moment, external pressure seems to be building across the state in the form of COVID-19. We have active outbreaks with a more potent variant, and as of yesterday, COVID hospitalizations reached December levels. At this rate, we’re trekking towards a significant care event -and on the downside here, the healthcare system is in a far more fragile state than it was before. We have less room, we have less staff, and we have a burned out work force.”

Kosin also commented on the value of the various COVID-19 vaccines and urged Alaskan residents to consider receiving a vaccination. “On the upside, we have an effective tool in play, and that’s the vaccine. So the message to Alaskans today: get vaccinated, take control. If you are on the fence about getting vaccinated, talk to a medical professional, talk to someone who has gotten it. If you are experiencing any symptoms, whether you’re vaccinated or not, go get tested, be safe. That’s what we want to get across to you today.”

Ella Goss, Chief Executive Officer for Providence Medical Center, also explained the current situation facing Alaska’s largest hospital. “For the past few weeks, our adult inpatient beds have been operating at 100% capacity. Our ICU beds have been operating at nearly 100% capacity as well due to ongoing staffing challenges. These staffing challenges are a direct result of fatigue from the pandemic, and the lack of ability to get travelers, and recruit and retain health care workers within Alaska. Our hospital leaders are working around the clock to address these challenges so we can continue to meet the needs of the patients across the state and in our communities.”

In an effort to create more space, Goss said certain measures were taken to allow for more beds to be available. “On Friday, in collaboration with our surgical governance team, the difficult decision was made to postpone non-urgent elective surgeries that would require an overnight hospitalization on Monday and Tuesday of this week. We did that to ensure that we had capacity to care for the critically ill patients or higher priority patients as we went into the weekend and came into this week. We continue to monitor the needs of our patients and our staff on a day to day basis, and will continue to communicate any further changes to our surgical services as those decisions are made.”

Fairbanks currently is not experiencing the same variant brought on by the coronavirus, but that can quickly change according to Shelley Ebenal, Executive Director of Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. “We are blessed right now. We have a low census and very few COVID patients. We have four COVID patients today, we have one in the ICU on a ventilator. So we are not seeing that surge right now. We saw a surge a couple of months ago that was scary. We are very grateful to our partners across the state who offered us resources, and particularly to the state who got us ventilators, high flow oxygen, almost immediately. So I just want you all to recognize that our state and our partnership through ASHNHA and our communities has been fantastic, but we can’t take that surge. We were here for Bethel when Bethel needed us and we know that they’ll be there for us if we need them. But if we don’t get this down, my CMO is with me today and she will tell you we have about two weeks to push this down or we’ll see the same surge in Fairbanks that they’re seeing in Anchorage.”

And with the potential for a rise in COVID-19 cases, Ebenal says health officials are calling for community members to step up to keep Fairbanks safe. “Right now we’re doing good and we’re here for all of you that aren’t, but in the meantime the community really needs to pull together. When we ring the bell and make the rallying cry, Fairbanks steps up to the plate - and so we need Fairbanks to step up to the plate, we need more vaccinations, we need people to mask, we need them to social distance, and we will push this down. I believe that about the communities across Alaska. But we need the rallying cry now, we need people to respond or we will all be in the situation that Anchorage is in.”

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