Hospitals in Fairbanks, Kodiak turn to crisis care standards as state reports 1,044 new COVID-19 cases

Published: Oct. 1, 2021 at 7:52 PM AKDT|Updated: Oct. 1, 2021 at 8:40 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The state of Alaska reported more than 1,000 additional COVID-19 infections on Friday, closing a week in which a handful of hospitals, including in Fairbanks and Kodiak, announced they are operating under crisis standards of care and the case surge continues.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services also reported one new COVID-19 related death on Friday, bringing the total number of Alaska residents who have died with COVID-19 to 557. A total of 21 nonresidents have also died with COVID-19 while in Alaska.

The resident who recently died was an Anchorage man in his 50s, the state health department said.

The end of this week still saw Alaska leading the nation in the rate of new COVID-19 cases per capita, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A number of hospitals, including the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corp. and Alaska Native Medical Center, announced they are now operating under the crisis standards of care enabled earlier this month for all state hospitals by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the state health department.

Foundation Health Partners, which owns Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, announced crisis standards of care had been activated at the hospital late Friday afternoon. They were activated “due to a critical shortage of resources” including, staffing, capacity and an inability to transfer patients to other medical facilities, the health system said in a press release.

“The move to Crisis Standards of Care is not something we take lightly,” said Dr. Angelique Ramirez, chief medical officer at Fairbanks Memorial, in the press release. “This is in response to a very serious surge of COVID in our community.”

Ramirez said in the press release activating these standards will impact all patient care at the hospital.

“The care we are able to provide is highly fluid and can change day-by-day and even hour-by-hour depending on the availability of resources within our system and statewide,” she said.

In the release, Foundation Health Partners said that even though Fairbanks Memorial Hospital is at capacity, people should not delay seeking medical care if they need it.

The Fairbanks are is one of the least vaccinated major regions in the state, with close to 52% of eligible people there being fully vaccinated, according to state data. The two major regions below the Fairbanks North Star Borough in terms of vaccination rate are the Kenai Peninsula Borough at about 50% and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough at nearly 42%.

On Friday, Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center Administrator Karl Hertz also confirmed the acute care hospital is technically operating under crisis standards of care, but has not begun rationing care for patients.

“Formally we are operating under the crisis standard of care, but that has not impacted the care we’ve been able to deliver to our patients on the island so far,” he said.

Hertz described how the capacity and the situation at the Kodiak hospital changes day to day, sometimes hour by hour.

“I’m really surprised at how the census can swing here in Kodiak,” he said. “Last Friday I went home and that evening, you know, we have five open beds, and by Saturday morning they were all filled.”

Those quick changes add to complexity of staffing and taking care of patients, he said. Transferring patients off the island to other medical facilities is challenging, too. With the whole system burdened, those transfers are taking longer. Hertz said so far, the hospital has not had any poor outcomes of having to hold patients longer than they normally would.

Help is on the way to many hospitals, including the one in Kodiak, thanks to the deal Alaska made to bring close to 500 out-of-state health care workers in on a temporary basis to help lighten the load. Hertz said Kodiak requested 21 personnel — 14 nurses and seven other caregivers who are a mix of support staff and other positions.

Three of them arrived Friday, and Hertz expects the rest to trickle in over the next week.

“We’re pretty strained here,” he said. “Community hospitals, acute care hospitals like Kodiak, we’re not created to manage, you know, ongoing pandemics. So our care givers are exhausted. Getting the relief from these FEMA care givers will give our care givers a break, give our nurses a break so that they can go home and recuperate a little bit while these other folks are here taking care of patients. And then we can blend them back into the schedule and make it feel a little more normal.”

Hospitals across the state are still under immense stress due in part to steadily high numbers of COVID-19 patients staffing shortages. The state’s hospital data dashboard shows that, as of Thursday, there were 202 people being hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide, with 35 of them on ventilators.

Alaska’s surge of new COVID-19 cases continued this week, and the state still has the highest rate of new cases per capita in the nation.

The state’s vaccine monitoring dashboard shows that just over 58% of eligible Alaskans age 12 and older are now fully vaccinated, and that 63.3% have gotten an initial dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Of the 1,044 new cases reported Friday, 1,011 of them were identified among Alaska residents of the following communities:

  • Anchorage: 272
  • Fairbanks: 108
  • Wasilla: 90
  • Kodiak: 52
  • Palmer: 52
  • Bethel Census Area: 50
  • North Pole: 47
  • Eagle River: 45
  • Juneau: 36
  • Northwest Arctic Borough: 18
  • Bethel: 17
  • Copper River Census Area: 17
  • Kenai: 17
  • North Slope Borough: 16
  • Soldotna: 16
  • Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area: 16
  • Valdez: 14
  • Homer: 10
  • Unalaska: 10
  • Aleutians East Borough: 7
  • Chugiak: 7
  • Dillingham Census Area: 7
  • Delta Junction: 6
  • Sterling: 6
  • Kotzebue: 5
  • Nome: 5
  • Nome Census Area: 5
  • Sitka: 5
  • Big Lake: 4
  • Kusilvak Census Area: 4
  • Salcha: 4
  • Utqiagvik: 4
  • Wrangell: 4
  • Denali Borough: 3
  • Dillingham: 3
  • Ketchikan: 3
  • Kodiak Island Borough: 3
  • Willow: 3
  • Anchor Point: 2
  • Douglas: 2
  • Fairbanks North Star Borough: 2
  • Houston: 2
  • Kenai Peninsula Borough North: 2
  • Seward: 2
  • Tok: 2
  • Aleutians West Census Area: 1
  • Cordova: 1
  • Hooper Bay: 1
  • Kenai Peninsula Borough South: 1
  • Skagway: 1
  • Yakutat plus Hoonah-Angoon: 1

The state also announced 33 additional nonresident cases of COVID-19 across the state.

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

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