Fear Hospital System Collapse in Anchorage

Alaska regional hospital, Anchorage. (Photo: ARH)
Alaska regional hospital, Anchorage. (Photo: ARH)

Emergency room doctors in Anchorage sounded dire warnings about the city’s hospital capacity at a medical update to the Anchorage Assembly on Friday .  

Doctors who work at Anchorage’s main hospitals described heart-wrenching scenes from last week's last goodbyes to unvaccinated loved ones, nurses quitting their jobs due to burnout, and infants hospitalized for severe cases of COVID-19. 

“We are on the verge of a hospital system collapse,” Dr. Andrea Caballero, an infectious disease doctor who also works at Providence Hospital, said to APM.

Doctors said that after a year and a half of the pandemic, hospital staff are demoralized from working long hours and treating preventable COVID-19 cases in unvaccinated patients. Doctors said they have seen an increasing number of nurses and other health care workers quit their jobs. Increased community transmission also means that those workers are more exposed to COVID, forcing them to take days off. 

Staff shortage means that ICU patients have fewer nurses assigned to them. It also means that emergency rooms are forced to keep patients longer instead of passing them off to ICUs, delaying the time before doctors can admit patients with less urgent injuries. 

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is at its highest level since December in Anchorage, and appears to be growing. Thomas Hennessy, an epidemiologist at the University of Alaska Anchorage, recommended the Bronson administration institute a vaccine requirement for municipal employees and mandatory masking.  

However, Anchorage’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Savitt said that he was unlikely to recommend any mask or vaccine mandates to the mayor. He said he’s preparing a recommendation to the mayor that municipal workers start teleworking, but said that the city will rely on voluntary compliance. 

Bronson was elected on a platform of opposing the Assembly and former mayor’s COVID mitigation measures. On his first day in office, he declared masks were optional in city buildings. Nevertheless, experts argue that the situation has fundamentally changed due to the delta variant of COVID, which accounts for more than 95% of cases in the state.

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