For good reason, information about COVID-19 is constantly evolving and dominating our daily lives. With all this information and noise, Alaskans can be assured that Alaska’s hospitals and nursing homes are here, and we are as prepared as possible to meet the challenge before us.
Many people ask, what can we do? As a hospital leader recently told me, “It is the simple things that will get us through this.” Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, practice social distancing, and do not go to a hospital emergency room unless it is a true emergency. While it may seem overly simple, these steps are critical to slowing the COVID-19 spread. If we can slow the spread, then we can protect our health care capacity from being overwhelmed.
Alaskans are now washing their hands and covering coughs more than ever. So, what are Alaska’s hospitals and nursing homes doing to meet this challenge?
First and foremost, emergency preparedness is nothing new in Alaska, especially in our hospitals and nursing homes. Our facilities have emergency operations plans in place and drill year-round for a wide range of crisis situations. We routinely treat patients with infectious diseases, and our staff — from nurses and doctors to custodial workers — is well educated on precautions to ensure safety.
Alaska’s hospitals and nursing homes have assessed and prioritized operations so that we can adapt in real-time to the COVID-19 event. This includes activating precautions for screening at entrances, safely triaging patients in our emergency rooms, and carefully monitoring contact, especially for our more vulnerable populations in nursing home communities.
We are also constantly communicating. Through the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, Alaska’s hospitals and nursing homes have a direct communication link to the state’s emergency operations center and key public health officials. We are effectively assessing systemwide needs, sharing information, and responding to real-time situations on a daily basis.
Finally, we are learning from our neighbors. Some of Alaska’s hospitals and nursing homes have sister facilities in areas that have been hit hard by COVID-19, such as Washington state. The Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association is connected to associations in every other state and at the federal level. These connections put Alaska in a good position to learn lessons every day and adapt our operations accordingly.
I have been privileged to work in Alaska’s health care system for more than seven years, both inside a hospital and within state government. There is no doubt the COVID-19 challenge can feel scary, but I sleep easier at night knowing that Alaska’s hospitals and nursing homes are here and will continue to be here in Alaskans’ time of need. Let’s work together and stay safe, Alaska.
Jared Kosin, J.D., M.B.A., is president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, which represents more than 65 hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care organizations.