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COVID-19 Response Leads To Multiple Challenges For Bethel Family

Bethel Elder Esther Green reflects on past pandemics, and lessons learned through stories passed down in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Green stands outside her home during the coronavirus pandemic on April 30, 2020 in Bethel, Alaska.
Katie Basile

It can be tough getting medevaced to Anchorage for COVID-19, but getting back home can be even more difficult. Here is a story of how it went for one family.

When his mother, Esther Green, was medevaced to Anchorage in October, Wilson Green said that no one in the family could accompany her. Later, when she was at Providence Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, they could not visit or talk to her until she was released more than two weeks later.

“I kept calling Providence. They finally gave me a call and said they’ll call as soon as soon as they’re able to have her talk to me,” said Wilson. “It was like 15, 16 days when they finally called me, and I didn’t talk to my mom till when I saw her after they were ready to release her.”

Esther had been flown to Anchorage with pneumonia and COVID-19. Wilson said that she has only a hazy memory of her time in the hospital. When Esther was released, she was still confused, contagious, and needed lots of care. Wilson said that she was attached to oxygen and could hardly walk up into the house.

“She was really weak. I thought, 'oh my God, she still needs to be in hospital.' Every two or three steps she would have to stop, catch her breath, then go again. It took her 3 minutes from my parking lot at my house to bring her in," Wilson said.

But that was only the beginning. Esther needed to have a private room and isolate in Anchorage after being released from Providence. Everyone in the house had to wear masks, medical equipment needed to be set up to take care of her, and the family had to be trained to provide that care.

“The transporter people gave me a crash course on adjust the oxygen and the levels,” said Wilson. “And that machine also has a humidifier, which they showed me how to disconnect, dump it, put it back together again. And just constant monitoring.”

Wilson said that his family was caring for his mother 24 hours a day: checking in with her all night long, adjusting her oxygen levels, and doing whatever was needed. She needed to be isolated for five more days. It was not possible to transfer her to the Alaska Native Medical Center, or even make an appointment, until after the isolation was over.

The family’s challenges did not end there. To get her back to Bethel after she was no longer contagious required overcoming a gauntlet of paperwork, and securing specialized equipment to provide oxygen during the flight. Wilson said that the biggest challenge was getting the paperwork.

“And it’s all coded, so the provider has to provide that to the air supply company, and it has to be attached with your paperwork when you go try to check in. And you also have to have a clearance concerning COVID saying she passed her contagious stage. We ended up having to be kicked back, not able to fly until we had those. We got kicked back twice,” said Wilson.

Bethel Elder Esther Green did get back home and is recovering.

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