400 health care workers on their way to help fight Alaska’s COVID-19 surge

More than two dozen health care workers attended the Anchorage Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. Providence Alaska Medical Center staff told Assembly members that COVID-19 is overwhelming the hospital. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy painted a stark picture of the state’s COVID-19 woes as a surge in cases of the Delta variant put hospitals in crisis mode.

He announced on Wednesday the state has contracted 400 additional health care workers from the Lower 48 and switched to crisis standards of care to alleviate the strain on hospitals.

He said the onslaught of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 is leading to burnout for health care workers.

“Our capacity here in Alaska, as in other places, is actually shrinking at a time when this variant is growing and causing cases to go up,” he said during a press conference on Wednesday.

The state signed an $87 million contract with DLH Solutions to send 300 registered nurses and 100 certified nursing assistants and patient care technicians to the state. Those health care workers will be distributed based on need and are scheduled to arrive next week. The workers are on a 90-day contract. The state has the option of three 30-day renewals.

In addition, the emergency order that governs the state’s Department of Health and Social Services was amended to include Crisis Standards of Care. A few hospitals were already operating this way, but now the guidelines are statewide.

Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink said that means the state is approaching care like it would in a disaster.

“When resources are really limited — it’s primarily around physical resources, like not having enough ventilators and how to be using such resources in a limited capacity,” she said. “Our primary focus is how to make sure that every Alaskan is able to get the care that they need.”

The state leads the nation in infection rates, according to the New York Times, which are often an indicator of hospitalizations to come.

Dunleavy said the state is “on top of this,” but reiterated to Alaskans how serious the situation is.

“The virus is real. It’s causing more infections. It’s causing more people to go to the hospitals. It’s causing more deaths,” he said. “This is a fact.”

Dunleavy has resisted calls to declare a statewide disaster declaration or to mandate preventative measures like masking. He asked Alaskans to “seriously consider” being vaccinated against COVID-19.

This story has been updated with additional information from the governor’s press conference on Wednesday.

Claire Stremple

Alaska News Reporter, KTOO

I believe every Alaskan has a right to timely information about their health and health systems, and their natural environment and its management. My goal is to report thoughtful stories that inform, inspire and quench the curiosity of listeners across the state.

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