Alaska Native Medical Center implements crisis standards of care, welcomes new workers

Published: Oct. 1, 2021 at 2:32 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - On Thursday evening Alaska Native Medical Center became the latest health organization in the state to implement crisis standards of care. Hospital Administrator Dr. Robert Onders said the decision allows doctors more flexibility with how medical care is delivered to patients when hospitals are at capacity.

Crisis standards of care, also called care rationing, allow for treatment and resources to be prioritized for patients who stand the best chances of benefitting from them. Gov. Mike Dunleavy enabled crisis standards of care for all state hospitals earlier this month.

The standards also remove some of the liability for health care providers who make those decisions, including prioritizing care for some patients over others. But Onders said that while rationing care is always a big concern, so far the Medical Center has not had to do that.

“I’m hopeful that with this additional staffing and deployments that we don’t have to do that,” he said. “We more have to extend staffing, use alternate locations for providing care, maybe operate a little different than we normally would, but it wouldn’t directly impact anyone’s care.”

The extra staffing Onders referred to is coming in waves. On Tuesday, the hospital received a total of 30 traveling nurses and nurse’s assistants, part of a plan to bring nearly 500 temporary health care workers to the state. Sadie Anderson, director of nursing at the medical center, said the hope is new workers will be able to give some of the permanent staff a much-needed break.

“A lot of the nurses have been having to work five and six shifts a week,” said Anderson, who added that additional staff will also help with patient care.

“Usually the med-surge nurses take five patients, and with COVID they’re just so sick, that they struggle with two to three patients sometimes each,” she said. “So when I usually can staff a unit with six nurses, I need up to eight nurses on every shift. So this will really help us to be able to have a safer patient load for each nurse and to be able to provide better care for the patients.”

Another group of workers arrived Thursday evening, this one from the federal government. The 35-member National Disaster Medical Assistance Team was requested by the state and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to help with the growing health emergency in Alaska. The team, comprised of physicians, nurses, pharmacists and logistics coordinators will be deployed to Alaska Native Medical Center for the next two weeks. Onders said even their brief stay will make a difference.

“I think even the short-term help is helpful, just because cases are rising so much,” he said.

Onders said he’s hopeful the additional staffing will allow them to expand their capacity and add more beds, which he noted are needed right now.

The move to implement crisis standards of care follows a handful of other Alaska hospitals, including Providence Alaska Medical Center and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. which has a regional hospital in Bethel.

Hospitals in the state continue to operate near or at capacity as the number of patients with COVID-19 increases. The state’s hospital data dashboard showed that as of Thursday, there were 202 people hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide, 35 of which are on ventilators.

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