Juneau’s Bartlett Regional Hospital cited for infection control issues

A mostly empty hospital hallway
A nearly empty critical care unit at Bartlett Hospital on April 7, 2020, in Juneau, Alaska. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Inspectors from the state’s health department visited Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau in January after an employee complained of an unsafe workplace. 

Then, in late February, the hospital got a notice of the violations the inspectors found. Because the hospital was out of compliance for some conditions needed for federal Medicare and Medicaid funding, the issues had to be fixed quickly. 

Acting CEO Kevin Benson told the hospital’s Board of Directors during a Feb. 23 meeting Bartlett had 10 days to respond with a plan to correct each problem. 

“Those have to be implemented and in place within 90 days or more bad things happen,” Benson said. 

The issues that the state inspectors flagged generally focused on screening and infection prevention. 

“They did find that we had good policies but we weren’t 100% in following all of our safe practices,” said Bartlett Infection Preventionist Charlee Gribbon.

For instance, the hospital set up a screening station at the front door. But, inspectors saw people come into the building, take a mask, get their temperatures checked and then walk right by the hand sanitizer.  

Also, some staff weren’t filling out an internal symptom screening worksheet when they came on shift — sometimes for weeks at a time.

Gribbon said they were on something of an honor system with that symptom screening worksheet and it wasn’t clear whose job it was to make sure that staff were doing what they were supposed to be doing. 

“We didn’t have good communication,” she said. But now, she said, they’ve delegated those roles among her office and shift leaders. 

Another issue is that a staff member turned up to work feeling sick and was allowed to keep working, despite meeting the criteria to be sent home. 

Gribbon said this happened right around the time most of the staff — including the employee who had symptoms — were getting vaccinated for the virus.

“At that point, I was thinking that it was a side effect of the vaccination and it was still mild and we would test her but yet it didn’t meet the threshold that she needed to go home,” Gribbon said. 

It turns out that the employee had contracted COVID-19. 

But, the staff member who tested positive wore a mask and washed her hands at work and Gribbon said it didn’t spread to other employees that had worked with her.

Despite the embarrassment of being called out, Gribbon said she is glad that inspectors came and called attention to places where the hospital can improve. She said Department of Health nurses still have to come back to the hospital and make sure its plan to correct the problems is working.  

“It was a learning experience and I thought it was really validating for the importance of the little things,” she said.

Bartlett isn’t the only hospital in the state to be dinged for COVID-19 infection control issues. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Regional Hospital was cited in August of 2020. And the Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital in Utqiaġvik was cited in November 2020. 

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