Central Peninsula Hospital as seen March 26, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Central Peninsula Hospital as seen March 26, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

CEO: Hospital at risk of being overrun

CPH has exceeded its bed capacity multiple times and a surge area has been opened in a former obstetric unit.

Central Peninsula Hospital is at risk of being overrun as COVID-19 case numbers continue to grow on the peninsula and across the state, CEO Rick Davis told the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday.

During a briefing to the assembly, Davis said that CPH has exceeded its bed capacity multiple times and that a surge area has been opened in a former obstetric unit. The surge area has four rooms with double occupancy, which allows the care of nine additional patients. If needed, Davis said, the hospital is also able to surge into its sleep lab, endoscopy and pre-op spaces to accommodate more patients. To date, CPH’s highest inpatient count was 63; CPH is a 49-bed hospital.

A large number of COVID-19 patients means the hospital experiences strains on resources, Davis said. Because COVID patients are sicker than other patients, they are usually in the hospital for a longer period of time and require more staff due to PPE requirements. The hospital is going through PPE “like wildfire” Davis said. Furthermore, when CPH’s hospital and emergency department are full, the level of care for traumas, strokes and heart attacks is lower.

Davis said that CPH is preparing for a new influx of patients in the wake of Thanksgiving, but staffing shortages continue to be their chief concern.

Staffing problems among health care workers has become a problem in hospitals across the U.S., and CPH is no exception. At one point, Davis said, 87 of CPH’s total staff of around 1,000 people were in quarantine due either to having tested positive for COVID-19 or having been identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive. When staff are in quarantine, other workers must take additional shifts to cover for them and the number of patients each nurse cares for goes up. The staffing shortage can also become expensive for the hospital, which pays workers time and a half for overtime hours.

Davis said that if CPH does become overrun, they may look to retired health care workers in the community to help meet a demand for services.

Currently, there are three general levels of quarantine for health care workers. Originally, Davis said, the hospital was using a mandatory 14-day quarantine, which he said is the safest. Davis said that CPH submitted a contingency level staffing plan to the state that has “looser” requirements for when someone can return to work, which is what they’re operating at currently.

Additionally, Davis said that four of the hospital’s departments have been closed so that staff can be reassigned. Closed departments include the cardiac lab and the sleep lab, meaning their patients are not being serviced.

As of Wednesday, there were 32 CPH staff in quarantine.

Davis also provided updates on the COVID-19 outbreak at CPH’s Heritage Place Skilled Nursing facility. Twenty seven Heritage Place residents, more than half, have tested positive for COVID-19. Ten have recovered with more recoveries expected in the next couple of days. One resident has died from the virus. As of Wednesday, there were 15 positive residents at Heritage Place.

Because other hospitals are experiencing similar increases in patients, Davis said, CPH patients cannot be transferred to other hospitals. “It’s an all hands on deck moment, if that were to occur,” Davis said.

Regarding the vaccine, Davis said that most of the work is being done at the state level, and that health care workers are expected to be among the first to receive doses. CPH External Affairs Director Bruce Davis said Wednesday that CPH is able to accommodate both the Moderna vaccine and the Pfizer, which require different storage conditions. While the state awaits the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine, Davis emphasized mask-wearing as an important mitigation effort.

“The masking thing is really, I think, what is going to help us get through until a vaccine is widely available with the least amount of carnage along the way,” Davis said. “However we get people to wear a mask — I don’t know the best way to do that.

Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce said that it is important for people to understand how “serious” the virus is and to take “sensible” steps to help mitigate its spread, but reiterated his belief that mandating masks will face pushback from the community.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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