Fairbanks

Fairbanks hospital moves to crisis standards of care ‘due to a critical shortage of resources’

Foundation Health Partners, which operates Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, said Friday that it activated crisis standards of care because of a “critical shortage of resources,” including staffing, available beds and transfer options to other facilities.

The shift to crisis standards, which give providers a framework for making difficult decisions about patient care and prioritization when resources are strained, is often seen by providers as a worst-case scenario.

The current COVID-19 surge has put mounting pressure on hospitals across Alaska, and while some facilities are applying crisis standards in a more limited manner, for at least one — Providence Alaska Medical Center, the largest in the state — the move to crisis standards has led to an occasional rationing of treatment.

“The move to Crisis Standards of Care is not something we take lightly,” said Dr. Angelique Ramirez, chief medical officer for Foundation Health Partners, which also operates Tanana Valley Clinic and the Denali Center. “This is in response to a very serious surge of COVID in our community.”

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The Fairbanks health organization also referenced a shortage of monoclonal antibody treatment, which health officials say is a highly effective treatment for high-risk individuals with COVID-19 early on in their illness, though they’ve stressed that it’s not a substitute for getting vaccinated.

Other factors involved in the decision, according to Ramirez, include “community spread driven by low vaccination rates and low mask utilization,” high patient numbers and inpatient acuity.

As of Friday, about one in three inpatients at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital were COVID-positive.

The shift to crisis standards “impacts all patient care, those with broken bones, traumas, heart attacks, strokes, COVID, anyone needing medical care could be impacted,” Ramirez said. “The care we are able to provide is highly fluid and can change day-by-day and even hour-by-hour depending on the availability of resources within our system and statewide.”

Still, she encouraged people not to delay medical care, saying, “You will always receive the best, most compassionate care that we can provide in the moment.”

[Are Alaska’s hospitals short-staffed over COVID-19 vaccination mandates? Not yet.]

The Fairbanks North Star Borough is one of the least-vaccinated regions of Alaska, with 51.8% of residents fully vaccinated, according to state health department data.

This week, the chancellor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks asked the head of the university system to consider approving a vaccine requirement for staff and in-person students at UAF’s Fairbanks locations, UA interim president Pat Pitney said Friday in a letter to the university community. That request was based on multiple factors, including requests from staff and students; community virus spread; the number of in-person programs offered; and the residential nature of the UAF campus, Pitney said, adding that an update would be issued within two weeks.

To address the staffing crunch at many of Alaska’s hospitals, the state has signed a federal contract to bring in about 470 health care workers from Outside. They started arriving this week, and Foundation Health Partners expects to receive about 20 temporary workers.

The Fairbanks health organization encouraged people to wear a mask in public, receive a vaccination if possible and get tested if COVID-19 symptoms develop.

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