Central Peninsula Hospital is seen in Soldotna on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Central Peninsula Hospital is seen in Soldotna on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Federal vaccine mandate looms for CPH employees

The mandate applies to all CPH properties, which includes the hospital, adjoining clinic and Heritage Place.

Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna will have to fully vaccinate all its staff against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 to come into compliance with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Bruce Richards, the external affairs director of CPH in Soldotna, said Monday that federal mandates are nothing new, and that they are often considered conditions of participation.

“We have to adjust our process,” Richards said. “It requires you to develop a policy that explains this whole thing.”

He said the hospital will have to find ways to get staff vaccinated, accommodate those with legitimate exemptions and create a federally acceptable tracking system. The mandate applies to all CPH properties, which includes the hospital, adjoining clinic and Heritage Place long-term care facility.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a press release last Thursday about the emergency regulation, stating that the Biden-Harris Administration is requiring COVID vaccination of eligible staff at health care facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs.

The release cites a White House report that indicates vaccine requirements work to increase coverage, and that vaccine mandates haven’t led to widespread resignations or layoffs.

Richards said Monday that he doesn’t know if employees will walk away because of the new conditions of participation.

“We don’t have a good feel for it one way or another,” he said.

The federal vaccine requirements for health care staff come as CPH is trying to rebound from the deadliest month it has seen all pandemic. Of the 37 COVID deaths at the hospital since the pandemic began, 16 were last month.

“October was really a bad month for us,” Richards said. “This shows you the power of the delta variant.”

Additionally, 29 of the 37 total COVID deaths at CPH have occurred since July. Two people have died from COVID complications already in November, he said.

The state Department of Health and Social Services announced 53 more COVID-19 deaths Monday, occurring any time between August and November.

The new fatalities push the statewide death toll to 764 since the pandemic began.

Although cases have seemed to be trending downward, Alaska remained at a high COVID transmission alert level Monday — with an estimated rolling average of 548.4 cases per 100,000 people across the state cumulatively over the past seven days.

The threshold for high alert level is 100 or more cases per 100,000 people in the span of one week. The state has surpassed that metric more than five times over. Monday’s new case count included 31 in Soldotna, 22 in Kenai, 21 in Homer, seven in Anchor Point, six each in the Kenai Peninsula Borough North and South, four in Seward, and three in both Nikiski and Sterling.

Statewide there were still 143 COVID-related hospitalizations as of Monday, with 18 patients on ventilators.

To protect individuals’ identities, CPH does not report COVID hospitalizations if the number of inpatients dips below 11. On Monday the hospital had fewer than 11 COVID hospitalizations, Richards said.

“It kind of sends a message that our numbers are lower than they used to be,” he said.

The last time CPH had fewer than 11 COVID inpatients was on Aug. 19, Richards said.

Overall, the hospital was operating at 86% capacity Monday, after many weeks of strained conditions and overflow.

“It’s good news … things are moving in the right direction,” Richards said.

Health officials widely agree that vaccination is the best way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID, especially as Alaska is still leading the country in daily cases per capita according to the New York Times.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11 last week, making another 28 million people in the U.S. eligible for the shot.

Pfizer is approved for everyone 5 years and older, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines are approved for anyone 18 and older.

Pfizer and Moderna boosters and additional doses are also available for certain high-risk populations. Anyone who received the single-shot J&J vaccine is recommended to get a booster of any brand.

Primary care providers can provide more guidance and eligibility requirements.

Getting a COVID vaccine

COVID-19 vaccines do not cost money.

Many different organizations on the central peninsula, including pharmacies in Walmart, Walgreens, the Kenai Fire Department and Kenai Public Health, offer vaccines. They are also available for both residents and visitors at airports in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks.

Additionally, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy hosts a walk-in clinic in its strip mall storefront at the “Y” intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways. The clinic has extended its hours to Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and opened Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Vaccination appointments can also be scheduled through the online portal PrepMod, which can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov.

A map of vaccine providers can be found on DHSS’ COVID-19 vaccine website at covidvax.alaska.gov.

People who would like assistance scheduling a vaccination appointment can call the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management call center. The center operates Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. The central peninsula call center can be reached at 907-262-4636. The Homer call center can be reached at 907-235-4636. The Seward call center can be reached at 907-224-4636.

COVID testing locations

Officials encourage anyone with symptoms to test for COVID-19, despite vaccination status.

In Kenai, testing is available at the Chignik Lagoon Clinic, Odyssey Family Practice, Kenai Public Health Center and Capstone Clinic.

In Soldotna, testing is available at the Peninsula Community Health Center, Urgent Care of Soldotna, Walgreens and Soldotna Professional Pharmacy.

In Seward, testing is available at Providence Medical Center, Chugachmiut-North Star Health Clinic, Glacier Family Medicine, Seward Community Health Center and the Safeway pharmacy. The Seward Community Health Center is offering drive-thru testing Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

In Homer, testing is available at South Peninsula Hospital, or through other area health care providers at Seldovia Village Tribe Health and Wellness, Kachemak Medical Group and Homer Medical Center.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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