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Gov. Dunleavy announces crisis care standards for hospitals statewide

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, R-Alaska, in Juneau on 09/14/2021.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy, R-Alaska, in Juneau on 09/14/2021.(KTUU)
Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 1:00 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 22, 2021 at 4:28 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration activated crisis standards of care on Wednesday for the entire state, the same day Alaska set a new record for the highest number of cases reported in a single day and as hospitals continue to be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

Dunleavy and top health officials made the announcement Wednesday during a press conference. Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum announced that he has signed an addendum to Alaska’s existing public health emergency order for COVID-19. The addendum gives hospitals access to committees that can help guide care decisions when they’re faced with limited staff and resources.

Crisis standards of care, which have already been implemented at the state’s largest hospital, allow for prioritizing treatment and resources for those patients who stand the best chance of benefiting from them, also called care rationing.

“So what this addendum does is it clearly articulates that our health care providers who act in good faith on behalf of the state have access to these committees which can help them provide strategies and alternate tools in order to provide care,” Crum said. “And they’re also covered in good faith effort for liability access.”

Crum said this is an added level of support for state hospitals as they deal with the ongoing surge of COVID-19 and “look at what changes.” He said the supports should help hospital with “lateral transfers” of patients between facilities.

“Let me be clear: this is not a disaster declaration, nor a mandate, and does not require any new legislation,” Crum said in a Wednesday press release. “The goal of this addendum is to provide support and guidance to our state’s health care providers as they continue to care for Alaskans during these unprecedented times.”

Dunleavy said state officials have been working on the plan to “beef up” health care capacity for several months.

“We’re going to continue to ask the people of Alaska to seriously consider getting a vaccination that’s readily available,” Dunleavy said.

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Alaska reported a record 1,251 new cases of COVID-19 among residents and nonresidents on Wednesday. It is the third day in the past week that the state has recorded over 1,000 new cases of the virus in a single day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alaska is now leading the nation in its coronavirus case rate.

Over the past seven days, the state has recorded 778.9 cases per 100,000 people, which is over double the national average. West Virginia has the second highest case rate, but has recorded around 10% fewer cases than Alaska over the same period.

Earlier in the month, the state of Alaska made an emergency request for 473 out-of-state medical personnel. The state requested nurses, patient care technicians, respiratory therapists and other health care workers. On Wednesday, the state also announced that the request has been granted and those personnel will be on their way to provide temporary relief to Alaska hospitals starting next week.

Alaska has recently seen record COVID-19 hospitalizations as the highly contagious delta variant of the virus makes its way through the state. There are currently 200 people hospitalized with the virus across Alaska and 21 adult ICU beds available statewide.

Last week, Providence Alaska Medical Center began rationing care. Other hospitals have been similarly strained with staffing and equipment shortages, and Alaska’s more rural hospitals are finding it more difficult to transfer patients to larger hospitals in Anchorage. Central Peninsula Hospital in the Kenai Peninsula community of Soldotna reported Wednesday that it was at 122% capacity, with 86% of its COVID-19 patients being unvaccinated.

Beyond struggling with an influx of COVID-19 patients amid challenges with staffing and resources, health care workers in Alaska are in the middle of a politicized fight over the seriousness of the pandemic and mitigation measures like vaccination and mask wearing. A physician at Providence recently described stories reported to her by other staff, including that one doctor was spit at while leaving the hospital.

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink began her comments during Wednesday’s press conference by acknowledging the state’s health care providers are working under extremely difficult conductions.

“First off I want to start by thanking the health care providers in the state who have been struggling under the weight of this pandemic,” she said. “Who have been physically threatened and violently attacked at times, and are trying to care for patients on the front line, in situations and circumstances they’ve never seen in their career.”

Zink said Alaska now has more resources than it’s had at any other point in the pandemic, but also that the state is “at the worst place in the pandemic that we’ve had this entire time.”

“We have more cases,” she said. “We have our hospitals being overrun by the number of patients that are coming there, and we need to collectively ... move that direction.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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