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Alaska’s largest hospital goes into crisis mode as patients wait hours to see emergency room doctors

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – Overwhelmed by an increase in the number of patients with COVID-19, Alaska’s largest hospital implemented crisis care standards on Tuesday, prioritizing resources and patient treatment who have the potential to benefit the most.

“As we do our best, we are no longer able to provide quality care to every patient who needs our help,” wrote Dr. Kristen Solana Walkinshaw, chief of staff at Providence Alaska Medical Center, in a letter addressed to Alaskans and distributed Tuesday.

“The acuity and number of patients is now beyond our resources and our ability to staff beds with qualified caregivers, such as nurses and respiratory therapists. We have been forced within our hospital to implement crisis care standards, ”Walkinshaw wrote.

Alaska, like other places, has seen an increase in coronavirus cases driven by the highly contagious delta variant. State health officials said on Tuesday there were 691 new cases and six recent deaths, all of Anchorage men between the ages of 50 and 70. A woman in her 60s from out of state also recently died in Juneau, the department said.

Health officials have said statewide that there are 202 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 who are hospitalized, and nine more patients are under investigation. Officials said 33 of those people were on ventilators.

The percentage of patients currently hospitalized for COVID-19 is 17.5%, the state reported.

In Providence, more than 30% of adult hospitalized patients have tested positive. It also comes at a normally busier time of year for Alaskan hospitals.

Walkinshaw noted that the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, which is regularly updated with numbers related to the virus, “is not equipped or designed to demonstrate the intricacies of providing medical care during this time. unprecedented”.

In Providence, one of only three hospitals in a city of about 300,000 people, authorities have developed and implemented procedures to ration medical care and treatment, including dialysis and specialized ventilatory assistance.

The emergency room is overflowing in Providence, and she said patients wait hours in their cars to see a doctor for emergency care.

Walkinshaw noted that what happens in Anchorage hospitals affects the entire state, as specialist care can often only be provided in the state’s largest city.

“Unfortunately, we are unable to continue to meet this need; we don’t have the staff, the space or the beds anymore, ”Walkinshaw wrote. “Due to this shortage, we are unable to provide life-saving care to all who need it. “

This has left patients across the state sitting in local hospitals since Providence cannot accept them for transfer.

“If you or your loved one needs specialist care in Providence, such as a cardiologist, trauma surgeon or neurosurgeon, unfortunately we have no room now. There are no more staffed beds, ”she wrote.

Walkinshaw said they expected to see an increase in COVID-19 cases over the next two to four weeks, causing an already stressful situation that could “quickly develop into a disaster,” she said.

She said the most important thing people can do is get vaccinated. Alaska was the first state to open vaccination to all residents. As of Monday, 56.5% of eligible Alaskans had been vaccinated.

Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, a Republican who has recovered from COVID-19 and been vaccinated, said hospital workers in Alaska were working long hours, some had quit their jobs and ‘there were capacity issues.

Dunleavy, who has never imposed a statewide mask mandate, has been criticized in the past by some who say he has not shown enough strength to support the vaccination.

“I urge, and I hope you print this, I strongly urge people to get vaccinated, strongly urge them to do so,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

Walkinshaw also asked everyone to wear masks, even if they are vaccinated and to avoid unmasked activities. She also urged people who are ill or have been exposed to get tested and urged people to avoid potentially dangerous activities and situations that could increase the need for emergency medical care.

“Unfortunately, if you are seriously injured there may not be a bed available at our trauma center to save your life,” Walkinshaw wrote.

Associated Press reporter Becky Bohrer contributed to this report from Juneau, Alaska.

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