Hospital officials warn of ‘dire’ staffing situation ahead of holiday

A woman dressed in a white lab coat stands in front of a table. Another woman with protective gear stands in a dooray befhind her.
YKHC workers wait to perform COVID-19 tests. (Katie Basile/KYUK)

The president of Alaska‚Äôs hospital association said this week that Alaska is already suffering from a shortage of health care workers as coronavirus cases continue to climb. 

Thanksgiving get-togethers could only make things worse, he warned.

Speaking on Talk of Alaska, Jared Kosin, of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, said that the public sometimes misunderstands what the crisis is. 

“Oftentimes they think there’s a bright red line, and we’re gonna, all of a sudden hit it, and .. we’re going to be underwater. And it’s not that simple,” he said.

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Instead, capacity will start to strain regionally at unexpected times, leading to gaps in the system.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing those cracks,” he said.

Hundreds of health care workers are having to take time off because of exposure to COVID-19, or catching it themselves. That means staffing shortages, including in Anchorage.

Those strains reverberate across the state.

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YKHC CEO and President Dan Winkelman said that the Yukon-Kuskokwim region has been hit hard by the pandemic, and has said the virus is making it harder to find hospital beds in Anchorage for rural patients.

Earlier this month, he said, four patients needing acute care weren’t able to get out of Bethel for several days. That was two weeks ago, and things could get even worse. The region reported 171 cases between Monday and Tuesday alone.

Kosin also pointed to nursing homes as places that are already under strain, and where an outbreak could break the already-stretched health care system.

“If that sector starts to kind of go under, there’s only one place for them to go and that would be a hospital, and if we have a transfer of those types of patients into a hospital setting it would put us under immediately,” he said. “So we’re in a pretty dire situation right now.”

Kosin says that almost all hospitals in the state are currently experiencing staffing pressure, something which is likely to get worse if case numbers continue to rise.