ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska's largest hospital has begun rationing care, saying it has been overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.
Providence Alaska Medical Center said Tuesday it will prioritize resources and treatment to those patients who have the potential to benefit the most.
Alaska is reporting its highest number of new coronavirus cases a day. The state, like other places, has seen a surge in coronavirus cases driven by the highly contagious delta variant.
Officials on Wednesday reported 1,068 new virus infections, which is 13 percent higher than last week. State officials say 201 Alaskans are hospitalized for COVID-19, and 34 of them are on ventilators. The percentage of patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19 is 17.5 percent, the state reported.
The state’s chief medical officer says hospitals continue to be stressed and there isn’t capacity for patients who have COVID-19 as well as those with other needs. Statewide, there are about 1,100 non-intensive care unit beds in hospitals, with only 302 available Wednesday. Only 21 of the state's ICU beds are open.
Dr. Kristen Solana Walkinshaw is chief of staff at Providence hospital. She said, "we are no longer able to provide the standard of care to each and every patient who needs our help."
Walkinshaw says Providence's emergency room is overflowing and patients have to wait for hours in their cars to see a doctor for emergency care. Providence is one of only three hospitals in Anchorage, a city of 300,000.
She noted that what happens at the Anchorage hospitals affects the entire state since specialty care can often only be provided in the state’s largest city.
The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium manages the specialty care side of the Anchorage-based Alaska Native Medical Center.
Consortium Public Relations Manager Shirley Young, Chippewa and Little Shell Tribe, said, “while ANMC has not formally made the decision to implement crisis standards of care, our resources are limited. The continued sharp increase of COVID-19 positive patients, mostly unvaccinated, require a higher level of care.
"This means that patients who present for care at the hospital should expect a departure from the usual standard of care that we strive to deliver. This may include longer wait times, rescheduled elective surgeries and the use of alternate care sites,” Young said.
She said the medical center is shifting staff and resources, sometimes hourly, to meet patient needs, “as we strive to provide the highest level of care possible during this pandemic.
“Our local health care workers desperately need our help,” Young said. “Please consider getting vaccinated if you have not done so already, wear a mask and practice frequent hand washing.”
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican who has recovered from COVID-19 and been vaccinated, said employees at Alaska hospitals are working long hours, some have left their jobs and there are capacity concerns.
Dunleavy, who never imposed a statewide mask mandate, has faced criticism in the past from some who say he hasn’t come out forcefully enough in support of vaccination.
“I urge, and I hope you guys print this, I strongly urge folks to get a vaccine, strongly urge them to do that,” he told reporters Tuesday.
Indian Country Today National Correspondent Joaqlin Estus contributed to this story.