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Health

Avoid All Physical Risks YKHC Doctor Warns As Hospital Beds Grow Scarce

Riders drive an ATV along a Bethel road.
Dean Swope
/
KYUK

Local health care providers are cautioning Bethel residents not to take physical risks, including riding ATVs. Their message is that if you get hurt, you might not be able to receive adequate health care as surging COVID-19 cases destabilize Alaska’s health care system.

“In a word, it is in crisis. Perhaps collapsing," Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges said, describing the state of that system. She spoke during the Sept. 14 Bethel City Council meeting. 

Hodges said that there are few, if any, staffed intensive care unit beds remaining in the state amid the current surge in COVID-19 cases. That means that YKHC is struggling to find beds for all patients, not just COVID-19 patients. To decrease the chance of seeking health care, Hodges warned against any activity that could pose a physical risk.

“Don’t ride your bike or ATV. Wear your seatbelt and drive the speed limit. Take good care of your health, taking all your prescribed medications,” Hodges said.

Hodges made her statements the same day that hospital executives at Providence Hospital in Anchorage issued a letter saying that there were no more staffed hospital beds available. Providence is rationing medical care and treatments, and it cannot accept any more critically sick or injured patients, including from other hospitals. That means it is not accepting patients who need to be transferred from rural communities, like those in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. According to state data, the Alaska Native Medical Center is also not accepting transfer patients.

YKHC does not have intensive care unit beds and cannot provide the advanced health care offered in Anchorage hospitals. For now, the health care providers in Bethel will do what they can with what they have.

“We will do our very best to provide health care for you, but we are limited by what is available in this state,” Hodges said.

Rising COVID-19 cases, driven largely by unvaccinated individuals, are straining resources. This week, on Sept. 13, the state reported its highest ever number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. And cases are expected to rise over the coming weeks. In the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, cases rose by 5.4% over the past week. Over half the region’s cases are in children under age 18. Many are too young to get vaccinated.

Hodges issued a list of instructions for how to reduce spreading the virus and avoid further burdening the health system.

“First of all, if you are not vaccinated, get vaccinated immediately. The vaccine is very safe and highly effective, and it is the best way to prevent COVID,” Hodges said.

Second, she said that if you get sick, to get tested for COVID-19 and isolate immediately. Third, wear a mask at all times when not with your household members. And lastly, support health care workers and be kind to one another.

YKHC offers vaccinations daily without appointment, and will provide vaccinations at people’s homes. If you have questions about the vaccine, you can call the YKHC COVID-19 hotline at 907-543-6949.

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