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Alaska News

Alaska calls on hospitals to put off non-urgent procedures for three months

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: March 16
  • Published March 16

Alaska Regional Hospital on Sunday, March 15, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN)

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Citing Alaska’s “limited health care capacity,” state public health authorities have asked hospitals and surgical facilities to put off non-urgent procedures for three months.

The move is intended to soften the impact of the coronavirus on Alaska’s health care infrastructure.

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said the recommendation is based on recent guidance from the American College of Surgeons, which said that based on what is happening in Italy and other nations, “it is very likely that the U.S. health care infrastructure and resources, particularly as it relates to care of the most critically ill patients, are likely to be strained over the coming weeks.”

The state health department said the recommendation is not a mandate. Alaska hospitals and other health care facilities on Monday were assessing how to respond.

Providence Alaska Medical Center is following the state’s recommendation and will temporarily cancel all elective surgeries, said Mikal Canfield, a spokesman for Providence.

“We are going to work with our community partners and reevaluate the situation over time,” Canfield said.

Alaska Regional Hospital CEO Julie Taylor said in an emailed statement: “We’ve been working closely with our physicians to determine which surgeries are truly ‘elective’ and can safely be delayed, versus those that may cause serious health implications if postponed."

“This will be weighed against demand for capacity, should we see an escalation in COVID-19 cases,” Taylor said.

The Alaska Native Medical Center is “quickly assessing the updated recommendations,” said Shirley Young, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

“Our surgical teams are meeting this afternoon to discuss how we can implement this and what’s the best course of action in order to protect and serve our community,” Young said.

Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau said it will suspend elective surgeries for the next 90 days. It will reevaluate whether to continue that policy every two weeks, Bartlett CEO Chuck Bill said in an emailed statement.

In statement Monday evening, the Alaska State Medical Association said the scope of the state’s recommendation shouldn’t include all outpatient care.

“Critical imaging services and procedures such as biopsies to rule out cancer, ultrasounds to diagnose blood clots, outpatient CTs and MRIs after trauma would not be considered elective by most physicians or patients,” the association’s president, Dr. Eli Powell, said in an emailed statement.

“Outpatient surgery centers in Alaska are not closing for patient care as of today. Outpatient surgery centers could be invaluable in caring for urgent and emergent injuries and helping to offload what may be an overloaded and overburdened hospital system in Alaska,” Powell said. “We need to keep health care accessible in Alaska as long as we can do this safely.”

The state’s full announcement is below:

DHSS strongly advises that all Alaskans follow this guidance from U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and the American College of Surgeons: www.facs.org/about-acs/covid-19/information-for-surgeons. In light of this advice, all patients, providers, hospitals and surgical centers are requested to consider minimizing, postponing or canceling all non-urgent or elective procedures for three months to decrease the overall impact on the Alaska health care structure.

Given Alaska’s distances and limited health care capacity, it is especially important to open acute health care beds for anticipated COVID-19 care. The State of Alaska believes that by delaying non emergent procedures, individuals will receive optimal care.

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This is a developing story, check back for updates.

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