Alaskans, we need to look in the mirror. What do we value?

Like many of you, I am at a loss for words to describe what we are seeing as COVID-19 ravages our community. The feelings that come to mind are heartbreak, disbelief, frustration, confusion and desperation. I am fully vaccinated, have not lost anyone in my immediate family to COVID and have not had COVID myself, and still, I have cried real tears over this.

Make no mistake, Alaska, a crisis is unfolding. This should matter to every single one of us. Health care capacity affects us all. It represents our health and safety net. Right now, we don’t have one. We are in the red. Our health care providers and leaders have stood guard throughout this pandemic, and they’ve sounded the alarm. They’ve called on our leaders and each one of us to help keep beds open so they can care for us. The situation has gone from bad to worse despite plenty of warning and opportunities to course-correct.

Each of us needs to consider what it means when there are no ICU beds in Anchorage and Alaska’s largest hospital is required to prioritize care under crisis standards. It means that care is diminished. It means that positive health outcomes are decreased. It means that disparities will be exacerbated. It means we’ve put our health care providers and teams in an impossible situation.

For my loved ones in rural Alaska, who already experience inequities in reaching a higher level of care on a good day, this is devastating. Where is the justice? Where is the concern for our fellow Alaskans? Alaska Native people have been stewards of land and resources since time immemorial. Our leaders and neighbors must do the same. Responsible stewardship of resources includes the hospitals that we seem take for granted in urban areas.

Meanwhile, at baseline, Alaskans experience high rates of injuries. We are active people, and our lifestyle has inherent risks. Hunting season is in full swing. School is back in session. There is also the daily need for health care to meet the acute, chronic and preventative care needs of Alaskans. Our health care system can’t keep up right now due to added demands of COVID-19.

It feels hopeless, but we can’t live there. We need to act. We must hold ourselves and each other accountable. We know what it takes to take pressure off our health care system and protect our community. Vaccines, masks, physical distancing, modifying social behavior and getting tested. We’ve heard this time and again. That won’t do anything. We are the only ones who can do something.

Many of us have done our part. We continue to be vigilant and carry the burden. Clearly, it isn’t working. It is time to look at ourselves in the mirror. Who are we, Alaska? What do we value? Is our sense of individuality greater than the needs of the whole? As a lifelong Alaskan and an Indigenous person, my answer is no. Alaska Native cultures and leaders remind us that it is never about the one. It is about the whole. This is how we’ve survived. We may not agree. We don’t have to. We can and must work together for the present and a future that is best for all Alaskans.


Chelsea Ryan is a lifelong Alaskan who grew up in rural Alaska — McGrath — and now calls Anchorage home. She is Upper Kuskokwim Athabascan. She has been a nurse in the Alaska Native Tribal Health System for 10 years and currently works at Southcentral Foundation. She is driven by the desire to serve her people. She and her husband Lee have two boys and a miniature beagle. This commentary is her personal opinion and does not represent the views of Southcentral Foundation or any other organization.

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