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Providence Alaska tightens visitation policy as omicron variant drives COVID-19 cases higher

Hospitals across the state continue to monitor staff levels during virus spread
Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 5:13 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Providence Alaska Medical Center announced Thursday morning that it was upgrading the visitation policy to the highest level in response to the growing number of daily COVID-19 cases in the community.

The move means that only one care partner may be permitted for some hospitalized patients, and that no visitors are permitted for many others, including most COVID-19-positive patients.

The state reported a record-high number of resident COVID-19 cases in a single day on Wednesday with 2,414, and Providence Alaska tightened their policies on Thursday at 6 a.m. Previously, Providence had been at their second-highest level for nearly two months, since Nov. 24.

“Changes in visitation are primarily based on how many people have COVID-19 in Alaska and Anchorage, and the busyness of the hospital,” wrote Senior Manager of External Communications Mikal Canfield in an email. “Although many things are taken into consideration before making changes to our visitation policy, one thing that impacted this change is the current trend of daily case rates, which show continued evidence of spread throughout the community.”

Currently, the state reports 81 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and only 28 available adult Intensive Care Unit beds statewide. Alaska saw a 161% increase in cases over the last week, according to the state health department.

The Providence Alaska guidelines for visitors allow one care partner for day adult surgery check in and pick up, maternity service, and end of life care, but no visitors for appointments, the emergency department, or hospitalized patients. Patients receiving end of life care “may have one additional visitor at bedside at a time (two visitors max.)”

Adult patients at Providence who have tested positive for COVID-19 may not have a visitor unless they are receiving maternity services or end of life care.

Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association President and CEO Jared Kosin said that hospital administrators across Alaska are monitoring the omicron surge extremely closely, and that staff members calling out sick or after having been exposed are intensifying the situation.

“The problem is a lot of our staff is getting sick or having an exposure, which means they cant come into work — and if they cant come into work that shrinks our capacity immediately,” Kosin said. “And so even though it’s a smaller number of admissions coming in from COVID, combined with everything else and the shortage that’s happening to our workforce, we are definitely starting to feel the pressure similar to what we saw in delta — not as intense yet, but it can turn into that quickly and that’s what we’re all kind of bracing for.”

At Central Peninsula Hospital on the Kenai Peninsula, only one visitor has been permitted for patients since their guidelines were updated Dec. 13. At Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage, only on visitor is permitted and visitors must receive a health screening and wear a mask “without exceptions.” Alaska Regional last updated their visitor policy on Nov. 19. In the Matanuska-Susitna Borough at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, two caregivers are permitted with exceptions provided for end of life care, but patients in COVID isolation may not have visitors.

“We can’t have something that is this transmissible getting out into the environment of care,” Kosin said. “But I think the visitation protocols have really come a long way through the pandemic and it’s not like the doors are totally shut. There are specific scenarios where the facilities work really hard to make sure that someone can be present with the patients.”

Providence Alaska had gone 50 days at their second strictest level of visitor policy. Prior to that, Providence Alaska had gone 78 days at their highest level of visitation policy between Sept. 6 and Nov. 23.

Kosin said that out-of-state health care workers contracted by the state have been extended through January and plans are in place for a “gradual drawdown” of those additional health care staff through March.

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