Alaska Regional Hospital opts out of state directive to halt elective surgeries, for now

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink talks to reporters at a press conference about the novel coronavirus on Monday, March 9, 2020. On March 16 she issued a directive asking hospitals to postpone non-essential surgeries. (Joey Mendolia/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska health officials issued a directive Monday asking hospitals statewide to postpone non-essential surgeries for 90 days. But, It’s not a mandate. 

Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage says it will continue with elective surgeries despite the directive. In an email to staff, Alaska Regional’s chief medical officer told staff that the “hospital currently has the capacity and supplies to provide all medically necessary services to COVID-19 patients.” The email says hospital leadership does not believe postponing “any surgeries or procedures is necessary or advisable.”

Related: Talk of Alaska: How emergency officials and hospitals are preparing for coronavirus

Sean Murphy is the emergency preparedness program manager for Alaska Regional. He told Talk of Alaska’s Lori Townsend on Tuesday that the hospital made the decision because many elective procedures are still medically necessary.

“People think cosmetic surgery, but I can electively get a surgery to postpone a life-altering illness,” he said.

He added that the logistics of getting people to the hospital from elsewhere in the state and finding housing and the right timing for procedures also factored into the decision. 

Murphy also said things could change quickly.

“So, what we knew for a fact four months ago is completely upended,” he said. “What we knew for a fact three months ago is completely upended. Who would have expected schools and businesses to close? So as of yesterday, our elective surgeries were moving forward.”

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Leadership at the state’s largest hospital, Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, announced they would follow the state’s directive. The Alaska Native Medical Center has also opted to follow the directive.

Dr. Holly Alfrey is chief medical officer at the Native Medical Center.

“For us, it was anything that could be delayed for 30 days,” she said, also on Talk of Alaska.

She added that comes with the understanding it could change “and we must monitor that constantly, so we will be meeting about those surgeries at least weekly. But, for now, we decided that we would stop all elective surgeries and those determinations on that definition will be made by the provider.”

During a Monday night press conference, Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said the directive was issued because of the way the coronavirus has strained medical facilities in other nations, like Italy and elsewhere in Europe. The recommendation, Zink said, came from the American College of Surgeons.