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As Alaska hospitals remain overwhelmed, family waits 10 days for dad to get open heart surgery

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 5:26 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - On Friday, Sept, 10, Andrei Buckareff suffered a heart attack. Shortly after, he was transferred to a Wasilla area hospital as he waited for a bed at Providence Alaska Medical Center, according to his daughter.

Buckareff ended up waiting 10 days for his necessary open heart surgery once he got transferred. It’s an example of the extended wait times being experienced in several hospitals across the state as they fill up with COVID-19 patients and struggle with staffing and resource issues. Providence, the state’s largest hospital, recently implemented crisis standards of care, which means treatment is being prioritized for patients who stand the greatest chance of benefiting from it.

“When he was transported and he was indeed verified that he needed a quadruple open heart surgery, we found out that the hospital was really overwhelmed with critical COVID patients,” said Ruth Villanueva, Buckareff’s daughter.

Once at Providence Alaska Medical Center, Buckareff and his family waited until the day he could get into surgery, which took 10 days, according to Villanueva. The family said part of the wait was due to a lack of staffing and beds. During an interview with Alaska’s News Source, Villanueva expressed her gratitude to the physicians that cared for her father, and also expressed sadness that this is what people are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.

“Nobody wants to have their loved one in that situation,” Villanueva said. “It’s really serious, you know, if you wait too long that’s a situation where someone’s probably not going to survive.”

She went on to say how hospital staff is doing the best they can with that little resources they have, and that they need support now more than ever.

In a prepared statement from Providence spokesperson Mikal Canfield, the hospital said current staff levels are being impacted by several factors. Among them is the fact that a nationwide nursing shortage has made it difficult to fill open positions.

“Providence Alaska Medical Center is typically able to augment staffing with travel nurses. With the increased demand for travelers across the country has made it more difficult to fill open traveler positions,” the statement continues. “Caregivers who have been exposed to COVID-19 in the community and must quarantine until cleared to return to work has an impact on our staffing numbers.”

The hospital acknowledged the current care limitations being caused by the COVID-19 surge, and that utilizing crisis standards of care may persist “for some time.”

“We acknowledge that the current demands on acute care in our hospital and in the state of Alaska are exceeding available capacity and are requiring difficult choices regarding allocation of specific life-sustaining treatments or resources and regarding patient transfers to higher levels of care,” the statement reads. “As a result of this situation, providers and health care facilities are currently experiencing limitations in their ability to provide the standard of care that we wish to provide to our community and normally expect to provide.”

“If we don’t come together and do our part, if we don’t focus on mitigation, our health care system is going to break, and in many respects, it’s breaking before our eyes,” said Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospitals and Nursing Association.

As for Buckareff, once he’s out of the hospital, he and his wife plan to head to Florida for his retirement.

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