Fairbanks Memorial Hospital

Eric Engman

The emergency entrance to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital June 29, 2017.news-miner photo

Fairbanks Memorial Hospital turned three conference rooms into patient care wards Wednesday in response to staffing shortages and the alarmingly high number of Covid-19 patients.

With 23 FMH patients being treated for Covid illness on Thursday, the hospital yet again reached “an unfortunate new milestone — the highest number of Covid inpatients we’ve had throughout the pandemic,” said Kelly Atlee, communications director for Foundational Health Partners.

To provide care for more patients, the hospital transitioned a dayroom in the nursing unit to accommodate five beds and began reconfiguring the McGown, Kiewit, and Chandler conference rooms into a ward.

“This space will be utilized in the event that we, essentially, run out of space to provide care,” Atlee explained.

The ward will most likely be used for patients who require less intensive care and will also allow for fewer staff members to care for a higher number of patients, Atlee said.

Alaska hospitals are stretched thin

About 26% of everyone hospitalized at FMH on Thursday was treated for Covid, while at the state level, it was 206 people, or 21.4%.

“If it’s over 10%, you feel the impact at a hospital,” FHP Chief Medical Officer Dr. Angelique Ramirez said previously. “And when that’s around 25%, that’s when hospitals are overwhelmed.”

Some Alaska hospitals across the state have been in divert status, unable to accept additional patients. The emergency departments remain open for emergent life-sustaining treatment, but “they are very tight,” Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink said.

“Hospital capacity has been the topic of the month,” Zink said. “Right, now our hospitals are stretched incredibly thin.”

Some Covid patients tend to stay at the hospital for weeks, and treating them takes more time and work as well, especially when family can’t visit their loved ones and meet some of their needs, Zink said.

Normally in many Alaska Intensive Care Units, one nurse cares for two patients, Zink said. Right now, nurses might be caring for three or four patients.

“And she only has so many hours in a day, and there is only so much work that one individual nurse could do,” Zink said. “So we stretch the resources that we have.”

The state of the virus

On Thursday alone, the Department of Health and Social Services announced 846 new people identified with Covid-19 in Alaska.

Locally, Fairbanks reported 60 cases, North Pole reported 17, Southeast Delta Junction reported seven, the Fairbanks Census Area reported four, and 10 more were identified somewhere else in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. For more information on case counts, go to dhss.alaska.gov.

Zink attributed the growth of infections to the Delta variant “and just how easily it transmits from person to person.”

Breakthrough cases

The state continues to see vaccinated people who get infections and some of them get hospitalized, but unvaccinated Covid patients tend to be younger, while vaccinated people who get infected and ill tend to be older and have other medical conditions.

“It’s important to just emphasize the fact that these vaccines were asked to do one important thing: keep us from getting really sick and dying from Covid-19, and they continue to do just that,” Zink said.

To help ease the burden on local hospitals, Zink suggested Alaskans use other services such as urgent care to meet their health care needs, and to curb the surge, she recommended to layer up the mitigation techniques.

“We’re good at putting on snow tires, we’re good at bundling with hats and jackets,” she said. “So let’s be good at preventing Covid by getting vaccinated, wearing our masks, distancing and keeping our circle small right now.”

Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at (907) 459-7587 or at anaiden@newsminer.com. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.

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