Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced that hundreds of medical personnel are coming to Alaska to assist the health care facilities in the state. He also authorized a crisis standards of care condition that allows for reduced standards for hospital care.
Nearly 300 registered nurses and more than 100 certified nursing assistants or patient care technicians are among the health care workers expected to arrive soon in Alaska under an $87 million contract between the State of Alaska and the federal General Services Administration.
The contract is with DLH Solutions for $87 million, and it is reimbursable from the federal government though the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The incoming health care workers will begin arriving next week, as part of a comprehensive support plan for Alaska’s health care system, finalized this week by the Dunleavy Administration for medical facilities strained by an influx of COVID-19 patients.
“We don’t have in statutes for crisis standards of care,’ said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer. She said doctors can’t always transfer patients when they need to. “Care has shifted in Alaska hospitals, the same standards of care that previously was there no longer able to is being given on a regular basis.” But she did not say that care was being “rationed.”
It’s not rationing, despite what the Anchorage Daily News is reporting. It’s standards of care document lays out the ability to effectively manage and triage, because health care is a highly regulated endeavor. Crisis standards of care is a continuum, with rationing as the final part of the continuum.
“We asked Alaskans for the last year and a half to work together on the challenge posed by COVID-19,” said Governor Dunleavy. “Our hospitals need help with staffing, supplies, and Alaskans to do their part. Today’s announcement brings qualified health professionals when we need it and provides Alaskans with the tools we need to manage through this difficult time.”
The administration’s plan includes:
- An Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association contract to help recruit and expand the certified nursing assistant workforce.
- Emergency regulations passed by the Alaska Board of Nursing to get more Alaskans trained and certified as Nurse Aides more quickly. The regulation change aligns Alaska CNA training requirements with the federal requirements for 120 days, reducing the number of training hours from 140 to 75, and requires training programs to meet the federal training requirements.
- The State Emergency Medical Services Office is working with local EMS agencies on strategies to alleviate overcrowding in hospitals. Strategies will look different in each community, but include providing services that facilitate early discharge of hospital patients to open beds for others seeking care. Other strategies include transporting patients to alternate destinations, or treating patients on the scene, and avoiding a hospital run.
- Providing COVID-19 at-home test kits to support in-person learning for kids and families to test before going to school to curb the spread of COVID-19.
On Sept. 22, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) enabled Crisis Standards of Care through the new addendum to the existing Public Health Emergency Order. Commissioner of Health and Social Services Adam Crum said that while the addendum gives a health care framework for providers, providers will continue to make patient decisions according to their policies and available resources.
“This addendum to the existing Public Health Emergency Order, authorized by House Bill 76, provides guidance to Alaska’s hospitals, health care providers and local health authorities in support of crisis standards of care should they be needed for a facility or community,” Crum said. “Let me be clear: this is not a disaster declaration, nor a mandate, and does not require any new legislation. The goal of this addendum is to provide support and guidance to our state’s health care providers as they continue to care for Alaskans during these unprecedented times.”
Read the ASHNHA letter response.
The addendum also offers participating health care facilities coverage under the civil liability clause passed by the Legislature in HB76.
“We want health care providers to know that the State of Alaska is incredibly proud of and grateful for the care they are continuing to provide to Alaskans,” said Zink. “Our health care professionals are accustomed to providing the best care they possibly can for their patients, but resources are now stretched to a point that most of us never expected to see in our careers. Difficult decisions will need to be made over whose care should be prioritized, and we’re here to support our providers to provide the best care for as many patients as possible during these challenging times.”
Alaskans who need emergency care should still go to the emergency room and not delay or avoid seeking medical care, Dunleavy said. Hospitals and health care facilities will continue to work hard to make sure Alaskans receive appropriate care. The incoming resources and announcements today are intended to prevent crisis standards of care from having to be used, those crisis standards of care are now available if needed.
Vaccines are readily available statewide. DHSS reports that from Jan. 16 to Sept. 11, 2021, 80 percent of all cases, 88 percent of all hospitalizations, and 87 percent of deaths among Alaska residents, aged 12 years or older, were in people who were not fully vaccinated.
But Alaska still has the third lowest death rate attributed to Covid in the nation.
“I’m asking all Alaskans to do your part by minimizing your health risks, not just for the virus, but for your personal safety” said Governor Dunleavy. “Think before taking risks. Let’s help the hospitals by reducing the strain on them for accidents. Every little bit counts.”