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Alaska's Largest Hospital Says The Strain Of COVID Is Forcing It To Ration Care

Front-line caregivers wait in line to receive a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, Alaska.
Front-line caregivers wait in line to receive a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, Alaska.

The stark situation of COVID's impact on Alaska has affected the ability of the state's largest hospital to provide care for some patients.

On Wednesday, the state reported 1,068 new virus infections — a level 13% higher than last week and one shattering the state's daily case rate since the pandemic began. The highest number of cases is in Anchorage, which reported more than 470 new cases.

The Providence Alaska Medical Center's Medical Executive Committee said Wednesday that it must implement a "crisis standard of care" amid the worsening coronavirus situation.

"While we are doing our utmost, we are no longer able to provide the standard of care to each and every patient who needs our help," the hospital said Wednesday. "The acuity and number of patients now exceeds our resources and our ability to staff beds with skilled caregivers, like nurses and respiratory therapists."

This also means elective surgeries, some of which have already been delayed for months because of the pandemic, will be pushed back yet again, the hospital said.

Hospitals in Idaho and Nevada say delta is behind the strain

The rise of coronavirus cases due to the delta strain is impacting other hospitals in the lower 48 states.

Last week, Idaho health officials similarly acted to ration medical care. Hospitals in the northern part of the state are suffering from low-staffing levels and a massive number of COVID-19 patients who require hospitalization.

"This is a decision I was fervently hoping to avoid," Idaho's Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said in a statement.

In this photo provided by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Blaine Woodcock, a critical care nurse, provides care to a COVID-positive patient during the COVID-19 response operations at Kootenai Health regional medical center in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on Sept. 6, 2021.
Kaden D. Pitt / Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, U.S. Army via AP
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Blaine Woodcock, a critical care nurse, provides care to a patient during the COVID-19 response operations at Kootenai Health regional medical center in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on Sept. 6.

In northern Nevada, particularly in the state's rural communities, hospitals are reporting higher-than-average hospitalizations because of infections among the unvaccinated.

On Wednesday, hospitals throughout the state reported overcrowding in emergency departments.

Stacey Wright told News 4-FOX 11 in Nevada that her mother, who needed emergency surgery, died after she couldn't get into an intensive care unit at Carson Tahoe Health for several hours.

"They were completely filled with COVID (patients). You'd be in the room with my mother and they'd say 'New patient, COVID, room this new patient.' It was like a movie," she said.

The Nevada Hospital Association said several facilities are requesting triage tents to be erected outside the facilities, as well as staffing aid through the National Guard or other federal resources.

Back in Alaska, doctors at Providence believe the infection rate will continue to worsen over the next few weeks.

"As we watch the case rates rise in our community, we anticipate an escalation in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the coming two to four weeks," Chief of Staff Kristen Solana Walkinshaw wrote for the Medical Executive Committee for Providence Alaska Medical Center.

"What is already a stressful situation could rapidly progress to a catastrophe,"
she wrote. "We are doing absolutely all that we can."

Health officials urged unvaccinated Americans to get immunized against the coronavirus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says full vaccination with any of the available coronavirus vaccines dramatically reduces the risk of hospitalization.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: September 16, 2021 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story misspelled Kristen Solana Walkinshaw's name as Kristen Solarta Walkinshaw.