First 100 out-of-state health care workers start arriving in Alaska to combat record COVID-19 case surge

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Published: Sep. 27, 2021 at 4:33 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Around 100 out-of-state health workers have begun arriving in Alaska to help relieve the state’s overwhelmed hospital system.

Heidi Hedberg, director of the Division of Public Health, has been speaking to DLH Solutions, Inc., the contractor that is bringing close to 500 medical personnel from the Lower 48 to Alaska.

“Tomorrow, some of the first health care workers will be showing up in hospitals,” she said.

The contractor told Hedberg that the remaining nurses, certified nursing assistants and other health care workers will arrive in Alaska within seven to 10 days on short 30-day contracts, but they could be extended. The challenge will be training them quickly, going through their paperwork and getting them oriented to start working as soon as early this week.

Over the weekend, the Department of Health and Social Services met individually with representatives of hospitals and long-term care facilities from across Alaska. Personnel are being matched with hospitals by the contractor.

State health officials and hospital administrators decided on a “hub and spoke and rim” model to allocate the health care workers

“The hub,” meaning Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough with the state’s largest hospitals; “the spoke,” being other facilities with critical care beds, and “the rim” being other Alaska hospitals.

Around half of the 470 out-of-state medical personnel would stay in Anchorage under the current plan, but that is evolving and “a ballpark” figure, Hedberg said.

The state recorded over 4,000 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend among residents and nonresidents. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, Alaska is experiencing the worst virus case rate in the country. Near-record COVID-19 hospitalizations are also being reported across the state.

In Juneau, Bartlett Regional Hospital was at capacity on Friday for the first time during the pandemic. There are currently no plans to activate crisis standards of care there like Providence Medical Center in Anchorage.

Kim McDowell, the chief nursing officer at Bartlett, said it had requested nine nurses and three certified nursing assistants from Outside. It’s unclear if the hospital will get them all, but there’s excitement on the impact that could make.

McDowell spoke to nurses on Monday morning after the night shift had finished and told them help could be coming.

“You could see them take a deep breath because it’s a light for them at the end of a very long tunnel,” she said.

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