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

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

Nurses from Lower 48 arrive at Central Peninsula Hospital

Additional staff are aimed at alleviating strain from COVID-19 surge.

Twelve temporary health care professionals started work at Central Peninsula Hospital on Monday to alleviate some of the strain the facility has endured during the delta COVID-19 crush, External Affairs Director Bruce Richards said.

The team — which is contracted through the state Department of Health and Social Services — is made up of intensive care unit nurses, certified nurses’ assistants and medical-surgical nurses. Richards said the hospital has also requested the help of more nurses and two respiratory therapists to aid CPH employees and patients.

“There’s no question that additional staff are going to help alleviate burdens for existing staff,” Richards said. “That’s exactly why we’ve asked to provide care and to give some of our staff some respite, so there’s definitely going to be a positive outcome.”

The additional health care professionals are making their way to Alaska by the dozens, dispersing to hospitals all across the state.

The program, which Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Director of Public Health Heidi Hedberg announced last month after Providence Alaska Medical Center implemented crisis standards of care, costs $87 million dollars — reimbursable by FEMA — and is aimed at keeping Alaska hospitals from becoming further overburdened. A total of 470 health care workers are set to make their way north.

“Providing additional staff is something that many, many hospitals have been talking about for the last six weeks,” Richards said. “Staffing has been one of the bigger problems. … So this is definitely a welcome piece of news to have these folks from different parts of the country come in and help us.”

CPH has requested 27 total health care professionals to aid the facility.

Richards said CPH is not currently operating under crisis standards of care, but over the weekend the state activated the standards for 20 hospitals, including CPH, which can be implemented if necessary.

“We’re not operating under crisis standards of care, but it’s available to us should we need it,” he said.

Richards said crisis standards allow for health care facilities that are low on resources to call the state for guidance.

As COVID has skyrocketed in Alaska the past two months, CPH has been at or over 100% capacity almost every day.

Additionally, with Providence in crisis mode in Anchorage, some patients have been transported to hospitals in the Lower 48 for more acute care. Richards confirmed Monday that a CPH patient was flown to Portland in August for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation life support due to COVID. The patient died.

On Monday, Richards said 18 patients — or 37% of all the hospital’s patients — were COVID-positive, with six of the 18 in the ICU and six intubated on ventilators. He said CPH has had two more COVID deaths in the past week.

This comes as the state reported another 2,290 positive COVID cases over the weekend. Alaska remained at a high alert level Monday — with an estimated seven-day rolling average of 836.7 cases per 100,000 people across the state.

The threshold for high alert level is 100 or more cases per 100,000 people. The state has surpassed that metric more than eight times over.

The weekend’s new case count included 64 in Soldotna, 63 in Kenai, 21 in Sterling, 16 in Homer, seven in the Kenai Peninsula Borough North, six in both Nikiski and Seward and four in Fritz Creek.

There was also a new state death reported Monday — of a Kusilvak Census Area man in his 50s. There have been more than 700,000 COVID deaths nationwide, according to the New York Times. Alaska remains the state with the highest number of new per capita cases in the entire country.

Statewide, there were 233 COVID-related hospitalizations as of Monday.

Health officials widely agree that choosing to get vaccinated is the single best tool there is to protect the people in each community.

The Pfizer-BioNTech, now marketed as the Comirnaty vaccine, received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration for anyone 16 and older in August.

Pfizer is still available via emergency use authorization in accordance with FDA guidelines for kids 12 to 15 years old, and the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen shots have an EUA for anyone 18 and older.

Across the state, 61.5% of everyone 12 and up was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Monday. Another 63.4% had received at least one shot.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s vaccination rate continues to lag behind many other regions.

As of Monday, 51.1% of people 12 and older were fully vaccinated and another 52.8% had received at least one dose. The only census area to have a lower vaccination rate was the Matanuska-Susitna region on Monday, at 42.2%.

Getting a COVID vaccine

COVID-19 vaccines do not cost money.

Many different organizations on the central peninsula, including pharmacies in Walmart, Walgreens, and the Kenai Fire Department offer vaccines. 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-through 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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