Health Watch: Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center moves to telehealth due to COVID risks

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Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 4:12 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Due to the continuing rise of cases from the highly infectious Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, the Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center has announced the move to telehealth for as many services as possible.

According to Jacoline Bergstrom, Executive Director of Health Services for Tanana Chiefs Conference, the decision was made to not only protect staff and patients, but also due to several staff members becoming infected with the virus.

“What we are experiencing, just like many other health entities across the states, is that our staff are also impacted by the highly contagious Omicron variant,” Bergstrom explained, “and so over the last three weeks, basically since the start of the year, we’ve seen 11% of our staff test positive for Omicron. That’s a fairly high percentage, and that does not even take into account that we have a shared number of folks who have to isolate, not necessarily because they were positive themselves, but because they have immediate household members, kids, [or] spouses who tested positive. So that puts them in isolation as well, or in quarantine.”

The goal with this move to online and over-the-phone is to keep services available to patients; however, this does come with it’s own set of problems.

“We were kind of anticipating that this was going to happen just based on what was happening on the east coast, New York,” Bergstrom elaborated. “Again, it was making its way to the west coast and Alaska, and so we were anticipating that this could be a reality and we did start converting a lot of our services to telehealth as much as possible to kind of try to keep as many of our employees safe, as well as not having to basically shut down services. But despite that, there are always patients who have a need to be seen in-person, and so we are somewhat challenged there. It does lead to canceled and rescheduled appointments.”

The current spike in Omicron cases is expected to continue to another three to four weeks according to Bergstrom, and there are methods residents can take to protect themselves and those around them. “As much as possible, keep your interactions limited to your immediate household. Don’t attend large gatherings. If you’re going out in public, please mask. Masking is still effective and really reduces the chances of acquiring it, and if you haven’t gotten your vaccine or booster, now is the time.”

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