Anchorage

Providence Alaska throws support behind Anchorage mask mandate

The CEO of Providence Alaska on Wednesday sent a letter to Anchorage Assembly members in support of a citywide mask mandate and forcefully denied claims that the hospital is lying about the current impact of COVID-19 in the state.

He also denied that the hospital’s vaccine requirement is worsening staffing shortages, as Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson has claimed.

In the letter, addressed to Assembly members ahead of a second night of testimony and deliberation on a proposed mask mandate, Providence Alaska CEO Preston Simmons outlined the dire situation spurred by recent soaring COVID-19 case counts that’s playing out within the state’s largest health care provider and hospital.

“I believe the question was asked during the Assembly meeting and echoed by some in the room, if Alaska’s hospitals and Providence are lying about the toll and impacts of COVID-19. The clear and unequivocable answer is no,” Simmons wrote.

Simmons said that the hospital supports “any measures that result in the increased use of masks, including AO No. 2021-91.”

“Mitigation measures — including indoor masking requirements — provide a layer of protection for our communities, families, and workforce,” Simmons wrote.

[Bethel hospital enacts crisis standards of care; Alaska stays on upward COVID-19 trajectory as Lower 48 sees decline]

Alaska on Wednesday reported a COVID-19 case rate that was five times higher than the national average and twice that of West Virginia, which has the second highest case rate in the nation.

Providence operates several facilities statewide, including Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, which enacted crisis standards of care earlier this month as resources, staff and space became increasingly strained.

Doctors at the hospital this month have described critical situations in which they had to decide who would receive care and who would not, given a lack of resources and staffing to provide treatment to those who need it.

Providence is requiring its staff to be fully vaccinated or have received an exemption by Oct. 18. Simmons in the letter said that 84% of Providence Alaska caregivers were already either vaccinated or had been exempted for medical or religious reasons.

“Contrary to rumors being promulgated by some in the community, Providence Alaska has not yet experienced staff leaving due to the requirement nor has any disciplinary action been taken in anticipation of the vaccine deadline,” Simmons said.

In a recent opinion piece in the Daily News stating his opposition to the mask ordinance, Mayor Bronson wrote that Providence’s staffing crisis was “self-inflicted” by hospital leadership and said it does “not justify infringing on people’s fundamental rights.”

In response to Providence’s letter, the mayor’s office said that Bronson “heard from dozens of nurses and medical professionals who keep coming into City Hall who contradict what the CEO of Providence and Southcentral is saying. They have shown proof that unless they get the vaccine they will be terminated from their jobs.”

Simmons, with Providence, wrote that the hospital is short-staffed due instead to a lack of travel nurses as well as both the physical and mental strain placed on health care workers.

“To be blunt, they are tired,” Simmons wrote. “They are burned out.”

[Anchorage’s public health manager resigns as city faces worst COVID-19 surge of the pandemic]

Health care staffing has become so strained across Alaska that state officials signed a contract to bring in hundreds of temporary workers to help expand capacity in facilities statewide.

In his letter, Simmons also noted that Providence is the largest private employer in Alaska, and among the top 10 commercial property taxpayers in Anchorage.

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