Beds are full, but Juneau’s hospital is not in crisis mode yet

A healthcare provider, wearing several types of personal protective equipment that is being tracked by the State of Alaska, provides care on April 7, 2020, for a woman hospitalized in an isolation room in the critical care unit of Bartlett Hospital, in Juneau, Alaska. on (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)
A healthcare provider, wearing several types of personal protective equipment that is being tracked by the State of Alaska, provides care on April 7, 2020, for a woman hospitalized in an isolation room in the critical care unit of Bartlett Hospital, in Juneau. On Sept. 24, 2021, the hospital hit a point where no beds where available due – in part – to a surge of COVID-19 cases.  (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

All beds at Juneau’s Bartlett Regional Hospital — except some in the mental health department — were full on Friday.

Chief Nursing Officer Kim McDowell said that hasn’t happened in years.

“It doesn’t happen very often,” she said. “But usually surrounding cruise season. Unfortunately, this is not related to cruise season.”

McDowell said there are a lot of reasons why they’re full, but “a lot of it is managing COVID-19 patients we have in house.”

The regional hospital had 11 COVID-19 patients on Friday morning. Three were discharged by evening.

McDowell said when the hospital gets full, staffing is one of the challenges. Bartlett uses “team nursing” — where two nurses may take on up to 12 patients — to alleviate the strain.

She said if new patients arrive, they are held in the emergency room until a bed is available. To make beds available, the hospital helps facilitate discharges for patients who can safely leave the hospital. Sometimes they even arrange rides.

McDowell said that while the state has initiated crisis standards of care, Bartlett regional hospital isn’t at that level yet.

“We’re not at a point at our facility where we’re having to, you know, look at not delivering the best care possible. We’re still able to do that under the circumstances,” she said. “It just may mean that care is delivered in the emergency department until the patient can get up to a bed.”

McDowell said the majority of COVID-19 cases in the hospital are people who have not been vaccinated. She urged people to get the vaccine, saying it prevents hospitalizations, deaths and the lingering effects of COVID-19. She said many patients in the hospital no longer have “active” or contagious COVID but still require hospitalization for COVID-caused ill-health.

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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