Alaska House leaders call on Dunleavy to ease hospital crisis with disaster declaration

Gov. Mike Dunleavy discusses the state of the coronavirus pandemic during an August news conference. (Matthew Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

With the number of COVID-19 patients in Alaska hospitals hitting a new peak this week, the Alaska House Majority is calling on Gov. Mike Dunleavy to declare a 30-day disaster.

House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said in a written statement that a disaster declaration would cost the state nothing and would give health care workers tools they need to deal with the surge.

The Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association says a declaration would accelerate the hiring of hospital staff, make it easier to transfer patients and expand the use of telehealth.

RELATED: Hospitals say a disaster declaration would help Alaska cope with record hospitalizations

But in a letter Friday to Senate President Peter Micciche, Dunleavy said he had no intention of issuing a disaster declaration.

“Issuing a Disaster Declaration should be use sparingly, in the direst circumstances, and in the absence of a viable alternative,” said Dunleavy.

Instead, Dunleavy is asking the Legislature to pass a bill he submitted Thursday that would expand telehealth and suspend background checks for health care workers until next summer.

RELATED: Sharing harrowing details, hospital officials implore Alaska lawmakers to help quickly

Among those who’ve also called on Dunleavy to declare a disaster are two men who hope to replace him in next year’s election: former Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, and former Democratic legislator Les Gara.

Walker wouldn’t speculate about why Dunleavy won’t make the declaration. Gara said it was politics.

“He’s not doing it because he’s playing to his political base and that’s more important to him than to do the right thing to help deal with this disaster,” Gara said.

Everything in Dunleavy’s bill, Gara said, could been accomplished in an instant with an executive declaration that should have come a month ago.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz

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