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YKHC Says It’s Not Rationing Care, But Remains At Capacity

YKHC is recommending drastic changes for the Y-K Delta, including all schools go to remote learning and 19 villages lock down.
Katie Basile

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation announced that it was at capacity and activating crisis care standards on Sept. 29. Crisis care means that there are more patients than resources to care for them all. That same day, YKHC denied KYUK’s request for an interview to explain what these standards mean for accessing health care in the region. YKHC granted an interview with Anchorage Daily News, but said that YKHC would only communicate with KYUK through e-mail. YKHC responded to KYUK’s questions the next day on Sept. 30.

Through e-mail, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation said that it is not rationing patient care at this time, but it is at capacity. “Operating at capacity means YKHC has enough physical hospital beds, but not enough staff for all beds,” YKHC wrote. It cited a national shortage of nurses and nursing assistants for the lack of staff. As a result, nurses are caring for more patients than usual.

Help is on the way. Last week, the state signed a federal contract to bring 470 health care workers from the lower 48 to Alaska. Of those, YKHC said that 14 nurses and five nursing assistants will arrive in Bethel within the next week. “While this will provide staff support in our hospital, prevention of COVID-19 is the best tool to alleviate burdens on our fragile health care system,” YKHC wrote. “It is absolutely vital for the public to get vaccinated against COVID-19, mask in public, and social distance to alleviate the stress on the Bethel hospital and our health care partners statewide.”

As of Sept. 30, YKHC had five people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Bethel, “which is significant for our hospital system,” YKHC wrote. The health corporation said that these COVID-19 patients are sicker than the patients admitted during last year’s surge and require more resources. “A patient hospitalized in-region with regular, non-COVID pneumonia might be admitted to the Bethel hospital for about three days. However, COVID patients are requiring hospitalization of two weeks or longer, increasing the amount of resources needed for that patient,” YKHC wrote.

Patients seeking care at the Bethel hospital could experience longer than usual wait times. YKHC said that it expects to cancel elective procedures next week. For the past month, YKHC has reported delays in medevacing out patients to other hospitals for intensive care. Most of those hospitals are also at capacity. YKHC said that as of now, village clinics have made no changes to the care they provide.

YKHC has selected a committee of three to five physicians to help make decisions under the hospital’s crisis care status.

YKHC implemented crisis care as Alaska experiences its worst COVID-19 surge of the pandemic. People in Alaska are contracting COVID-19 five times faster than the national average, and nearly twice as fast as the next closest state, according to the New York Times COVID-19 tracker. The majority of severe infections are in unvaccinated individuals.

Health officials warn that hospitalizations and deaths are likely to increase as cases rise.

Anna Rose MacArthur served as KYUK's News Director from 2015-2022.
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