Providence CEO backs Anchorage Assembly’s proposed mask mandate

Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

The Chief Executive of Providence Alaska Medical Center said the hospital supports a proposed masking ordinance in Anchorage in a letter to the Assembly sent this week. The letter also disputed Anchorage mayor Dave Bronson’s claims about hospital capacity and staffing shortages. 

At a meeting on Tuesday, Bronson said some 20 percent of Providence nurses could quit their jobs in response to the hospital’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement, which goes into effect in mid-October. Providence CEO Preston Simmons said in the letter that already 84 percent of Providence employees are vaccinated or have an approved exemption. Simmons said Providence has not had any staff leave due to the requirement. He said other facilities in the nation have seen a 1-3% decrease in staffing as a result of vaccine requirements. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, some members of the public also questioned whether Providence was lying about the toll and impacts of COVID-19, including the lack of available ICU beds. Simmons said in the letter the “answer is no.”

As Alaska leads the nation’s COVID-19 case rate, Providence has often had difficulty getting emergency room patients a hospital bed, Simmons said. Limited resources, staffing shortages and worker burnout, he said, are directly a result of the surge of COVID patients driven by the Delta variant. 

Simmons reiterated Providence’s plea for Anchorage residents to follow basic prevention measures like masking and social distancing to prevent COVID-19 spread and reduce the unprecedented strain on hospital workers. The hospital supports any measures that increase the use of masks, he said, including the Assembly ordinance. 

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