A sign instructing patients and visitors on the COVID-19 screening process is seen in the River Tower of Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, Alaska, on April 7, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

A sign instructing patients and visitors on the COVID-19 screening process is seen in the River Tower of Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, Alaska, on April 7, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Hospital ‘dealing with’ overcapacity

Central Peninsula Hospital was operating at a 112% occupancy rate Wednesday morning.

During last winter’s coronavirus surge, the number of COVID-19 inpatients at the Central Peninsula Hospital peaked at 16. Now that number seems to be the average, External Affairs Director Bruce Richards said Wednesday. And there doesn’t appear to be a COVID case drop in sight.

“It doesn’t look good,” Richards said.

CPH was at 112% capacity Wednesday, according to the hospital website. There were 16 COVID patients hospitalized — 13 unvaccinated — with seven patients in the intensive care unit and one on a ventilator.

And it’s not just COVID patients seeking medical attention.

The Soldotna hospital is a 49-regular bed facility, and there were 55 total inpatients on Wednesday, Richards said. That means some patients have occupied old maternity ward rooms, while others are doubled up in other rooms to maximize space.

“We’re overcapacity and we’re dealing with it,” Richards said Wednesday, emphasizing that all of CPH staff is working hard to care for the influx of hospital patients.

Last winter’s record of 16 COVID inpatients in a single day was surpassed this summer by a high of 26 patients over the weekend of Aug. 28.

COVID cases are still rising in Alaska.

The state announced 1,095 new COVID cases Wednesday, 1,068 of them residents, which is the most reported in a single day since the pandemic began.

The case count included 24 in Kenai, 20 in Homer, 19 in Soldotna, 10 in Seward, four in Anchor Point, three in the Kenai Peninsula Borough North, and one each in the Kenai Peninsula Borough South, Nikiski and Sterling.

Richards said over the past weekend he also saw his first pediatric COVID inpatient.

“They ended up staying in the ER,” he said.

The pediatric patient was discharged after one night in the hospital.

The ICU was at 100% capacity on Wednesday morning, according to the CPH webpage. Sometimes, Richards said, hospital staff have had to hold triaged ICU patients in the emergency room when the unit is full.

However, unlike some hospitals in Anchorage, CPH is not currently rationing any care or resources, Richards said. He said when the ICU is full, that means a patient with less severe injury or illness will just have to wait longer for treatment.

“It doesn’t mean somebody won’t get ICU-level care,” he said.

But if the surge continues to impact the state’s best equipped hospitals — like Providence in Anchorage — that could affect CPH.

Richards said the Soldotna hospital doesn’t have the resources to perform some of the same procedures that Providence does, so if that hospital falls into crisis mode, central peninsula residents might not have many options.

“Hospitalizations are definitely much higher this wave,” Richards said. “We’re doing OK … but all this can change at a moment’s notice.”

COVID vaccines

Across the state, 56.7% of everyone 12 and up was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Another 62% had received at least one shot.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough continues to lag behind many places in the state.

As of Monday, 47.9% of people 12 and older were fully vaccinated and another 51.5% had received at least one dose. The only census area to have a lower vaccination rate was the Matanuska-Susitna region on Friday, where just 39.9% of the eligible population was fully vaccinated.

As an incentive to get the jab, DHSS and the Alaska Chamber of Commerce launched a lottery program for newly vaccinated eligible residents that offers weekly winners a prize of at least $49,000. To find out the eligibility requirements or to enter into the giveaway sweepstakes, visit giveakashot.com. The lottery lasts through Oct. 30.

Many different organizations on the central peninsula, including pharmacies in Walmart, Walgreens, and the Kenai Fire Department offer vaccines free of charge. 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 Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 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 with 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. Starting Sept. 14, 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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