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‘This is better than Christmas’: Out-of-state workers provide relief to those at Providence

Providence Alaska Medical Center
Providence Alaska Medical Center
Published: Oct. 1, 2021 at 6:11 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Respiratory therapists at Providence Alaska Medical Center have a tough job right now. Working hours on end, some said their off time is usually spent catching up on sleep before going back to an overwhelmed hospital. With hundreds of out-of-state healthcare workers starting to trickle into Alaska hospitals, a moment of relief is on the horizon.

Providence spokespeople said in total the hospital will receive 117 state funded health care workers. Currently many are going through training and orientation, but some have already begun to get to work.

It’s been difficult in the respiratory therapy department at Providence, according to some of the therapists. Usually, they have around five patients on ventilators each. Lately it’s been common to have up to 10, according to Heidi Decaro. She said their shifts are supposed to be 12 hours long, three days a week. Some days she said they’re working 15 hours a day, and right now they’re working four days a week.

Decaro said the workload has her feeling like some steps may have been missed. She said all the patients are getting seen, but communicating all the information about them with charts and notes piles up in between.

“It’s been extremely frustrating,” she said. “I’m sure you can relate that there’s job satisfaction right? So if you don’t feel like you did your job then it wears on you. Even though I know I did the important part of my job, there’s other requirements that I don’t know that I’m getting to.”

The infection rates and how much sicker and younger patients are becoming at this point in the pandemic weighs heavily on Ashley Reaves, another member of the department.

“I feel like they are getting sicker so much faster and dying so much faster,” Reaves said. “So when you talk about your day-to-day coming on your shift, you pretty much know that patients you’re going to see today will probably be gone by tomorrow.”

“Earlier this week, I had to encourage a patient to call their family before we moved them to the ICU so they could say goodbye,” Decaro said. “You guys can’t imagine what that feels like. To say, ‘this is probably the last time. You might want to tell your kids you love them.’”

Outside of work they’re tired, but they’re also feeling isolated being a health care worker among a population that’s tired of the pandemic.

“I feel like it’s become very politicized,” Reaves said. “I don’t even want people to know that I work at the hospital. I feel like I walk out into the public, I choose to wear a mask, I’ve been vaccinated, I’ve had COVID, and I feel like it’s my duty to keep my community safe and healthy. And that viewpoint is not necessarily shared. Knowing that I’m a health care worker, knowing that people feel like it’s a big sham, a big farce, it does make me feel unsafe in my profession when I go out into the real world.”

“It’s sad to say, but it’s mainly my coworkers that I’m showing up for because of the way that we’re being treated by patients and families,” Decaro said.

In all reality, they’re excited that the extra help is on the way to offer some relief. Being so tired from work, they haven’t had much time to be with their families even when they’re off work.

“I get to go home and be with my kids,” Decaro said. “I get to decorate for Halloween. I get time off. My kids are always like, ‘do you have time off tomorrow? Do you get the weekend off?’”

However, they are being cautiously optimistic. Because even with more help, the care providers still need beds and equipment to take care of people. They really hope that people outside of the hospital take steps to try and slow the spread Otherwise, they say, it’ll only get worse.

“Even with the state help, it’s not going to be enough,” Reaves said. “I remember coming in and reading that he’s (Governor Mike Dunleavy) approved state help — I cried. I was like ‘this is better than Christmas. I feel like our patients are going to get better care.’ But still, it’s not enough and changes need to be made outside of the hospital.”

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