A third Alaska hospital has established crisis protocols that will allow rationing care when needed as the state recorded the worst COVID-19 diagnosis rate in the US in recent days.
One in every 84 people in Alaska was diagnosed with COVID-19 from September 22 to September 29, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. The next highest rate was one in every 164 people in West Virginia. .
Fairbanks Memorial Hospital said on Friday it had activated the crisis standards of care policy because of a severe shortage of beds, staffing and monoclonal antibody treatments, as well as the inability to transfer patients to other facilities.
In mid-September, the state’s largest hospital, Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, implemented the policy, as did Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. for its hospital at Bethel in southwest Alaska.
“Moving towards crisis standards of care is not something we take lightly,” Fairbanks Chief Medical Officer Dr Angelique Ramirez said in a statement. “This is in response to a very serious outbreak of COVID in our community.”
The move came on the same day that the state reported 1,044 new cases, 108 of them in the Fairbanks area. The hospital says 35% of its patients were being treated for COVID-19 as of Saturday.
Since March 2020, a total of 110,850 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Alaska, which has a population of approximately 731,000. More than 24,000 new cases were reported in September as the Delta version drove a spike in cases in Alaska, which never had a statewide mask mandate.
The state health department said a total of 2,432 people have been hospitalized and 557 Alaskans have died.
Across the state, 60% of eligible Alaskans are fully vaccinated. Fairbanks North Star Borough is the third worst area for vaccination rates in Alaska, with only 52% of eligible residents being vaccinated.
Officials from Foundation Health Partners, which owns Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, have encouraged people in the community to wear masks and get vaccinated, if possible.
Ramirez said the decision to go to crisis standards was due to several factors, including community spread due to low vaccination rates and the high number of patients waiting to be admitted.
“It affects all patient care, broken bones, trauma, heart attacks, strokes, COVID, anyone who needs medical care,” Ramirez said. “The care we are able to provide is highly fluid and can change from day to day and even hour to hour depending on the availability of resources within our systems and states.”
He also emphasized that people should not delay medical care, even if the system is at capacity. “You will always get the best, most compassionate care we can provide at the moment,” Ramirez said.
The state has tied up with around 500 medical professionals from the lower 48 to help ease the staffing shortage.