As Providence moves to crisis care, other Alaska hospitals grow strained

The Emergency Department and Day Surgery entrance at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

The doctors at Providence Alaska Medical Center are so far the only medical staff to declare that they’ve moved to crisis standards and are rationing health care, though other hospitals are also struggling with the surge of COVID-19 patients.

“What Providence is experiencing is very similar to what is being experienced in several other facilities,” said Jared Kosin, chief executive of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.

Since the delta variant of the virus hit the state, facilities across Alaska have had days where they’ve been unable to provide health care at their usual level, he said.

Patients who would normally be in intensive care are in other units. Fairbanks Memorial Hospital has converted waiting areas and conference rooms to treat more patients.

RELATED: Alaska’s largest hospital now rationing care due to COVID surge

Last week, Kosin said, one facility — he wouldn’t say which — was close to having to choose which of its patients would have to be taken off supplemental oxygen.

“This was a critical-access hospital. (It) was hours away from running out of its oxygen supply for patients who needed high-flow oxygen,” he said.

The independent medical staff at Providence wrote an open letter Tuesday declaring that they are unable to meet the normal standards of health care and have to “prioritize scarce resources and treatments to those patients who have the potential to benefit the most.” 

Dr. Ryan Webb, a spokesman for his colleagues at Providence, acknowledged the decision to declare that they’ve moved to a crisis footing is subjective. But as the triage calls became tougher and emergency room waits longer, Webb said the doctors at Providence felt that they had to be transparent with the public.

The administration at Providence is helping its doctors put the word out.

“We acknowledge that the current demands on acute care in our hospital and in the state of Alaska are exceeding available capacity and are requiring difficult choices regarding allocation of specific life-sustaining treatments or resources and regarding patient transfers to higher levels of care,” Providence said in an emailed statement.

RELATED: Bethel doctor advises residents to avoid physical risks as hospital beds grow scarce

Alaska Regional Hospital is not operating under a crisis standard but is prioritizing surgeries to help more critical cases.

“Although our hospital is operating at capacity, we still have the ability to provide care to our patients and we encourage residents to seek the emergency care they need,” Kjerstin Lastufka, a spokes person, said by email.

COVID patients, most of whom are unvaccinated, are now using about half of the state’s intensive care beds. Nearly one in five emergency room visits Tuesday was COVID-related.

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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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