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Over 470 out-of-state health care workers to come to Alaska starting next week

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 3:07 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 22, 2021 at 9:46 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - More than 470 health care workers will begin arriving in Alaska next week to help relieve the state’s strained hospital system, according to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration.

Officials say the state of Alaska signed a $87 million contract to bring in medical personnel, including almost 300 nurses, respiratory therapists and certified nursing assistants. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse the state for the contract.

Heidi Hedberg with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said the out-of-state health care workers will arrive in a “phased rollout.” She said the contract was signed with DLH Solutions, Inc. on Tuesday and is for 90 days with the option for three 30-day renewals.

After requesting a copy of the contract from the state health department, Alaska’s News Source was directed by a spokesperson to file a public records request. Hedberg confirmed during a Wednesday press conference with the governor and other top health officials that the state is receiving the roughly 470 personnel it requested.

The Alaska State Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association asked for the state to make the emergency request through the federal government in early September. Last week, the state’s largest hospital began rationing care. Other hospitals have been similarly strained with staffing and equipment shortages.

Jared Kosin, president and CEO of that association, said Wednesday said he is “cautiously optimistic” after the Dunleavy administration’s announcement but he’s waiting to learn more. He said there’s still a lot to work to do in regard to the incoming health care workers.

“We are still waiting for details on exactly how many positions are going to be filled, when they will be filled and when we can actually expect boots on the ground,” Kosin said. “... but based on the preliminary reports and what we heard today, to secure that level of staffing would be a big accomplishment and we’re looking forward to hopefully welcoming that staff up to Alaska.”

Glenn Hoskinson, a spokesperson for the state Commerce Department, said a challenge would be granting emergency courtesy licenses to those out-of-state health care workers. She said staff have been reassigned, overtime has been approved and “it’s all hands on deck” to approve applications, but a rush of dozens or hundreds of personnel arriving all at once could strain the department’s ability to approve licenses.

“We just don’t have the capacity to do that,” Hoskinson said, explaining that could take weeks.

The state posted a record 1,251 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. It is the third day in the past week that the state has recorded over 1,000 new cases of the virus.

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

Over the past week, the state has recorded 778.9 cases per 100,000 people. West Virginia has the second highest case rate, but has recorded 10% fewer cases than Alaska over the past seven days.

Dunleavy said the COVID-19 pandemic is taking two different tracks: Life is largely back to normal outside hospitals, but “there is definitely an emergency occurring in our hospitals.”

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

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