Alaska takes extreme measures to respond to COVID surge: ‘This is uncharted territory’

Health care workers at the Anchorage Assembly meeting on Tuesday. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy made two big announcements this week about how the state is managing COVID-19. One is a signed contract to bring hundreds of health care workers to the state and the other is moving hospitals to crisis standards of care.

Jared Kosin, the chief executive of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, says hospitals are planning for the worker influx, even though staff has been hard to come by for the whole pandemic.  

“The idea of having hundreds come up all at once, it is hard to fathom how that’s possible. But the signals we’re getting from the state and the meetings we’re having from them, it feels like we’re on track for something big to happen,” Kosin said.

He says that many additional workers could be a game-changer for the state’s overwhelmed hospitals.

As for the second announcement, Kosin says don’t feel bad if you don’t really know what “crisis standards of care” means.

“This is uncharted territory. When you think of a playbook for crisis standards of care over a prolonged period in a pandemic, really go back to the early 1900s. This is something none of us have ever done in this context,” he said.

He said to think of it as formal guidance and recognition from the state that the standards of care in Alaska’s hospitals are not at the usual level. He says there’s some liability protection in that.

What those crisis standards mean for hospitals is that they don’t always have the resources to take care of patients in an optimal way. That means tough choices for providers. But Kosin says despite that, it’s important to still go to the hospital if you need to.

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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