A sign instructs patients and visitors on the COVID-19 screening process in the River Tower of Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, Alaska on April 7, 2020. (Peninsula Clarion file)

A sign instructs patients and visitors on the COVID-19 screening process in the River Tower of Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, Alaska on April 7, 2020. (Peninsula Clarion file)

Staff adapts as COVID patients inundate hospital

As of Monday morning, there were 21 COVID inpatients, with 7 of them in the intensive care unit and 1 on a ventilator.

Central Peninsula Hospital has been busy with an influx of patients in recent weeks, so much that employees have had to put more than one patient in a room as the facility saw a new record of COVID-19 hospitalizations at one time — 26 in a single day last weekend.

Bruce Richards, the external affairs director at CPH, said everyone from environmental services to administrators and health care staff are feeling the effects of burnout.

“It’s tough,” he said. “But they’re resilient and they’re working hard.”

Last week CPH opened its overflow unit for patients after the hospital was close to full capacity. But because the unit was far from the medical-surgical unit where the resources for COVID patients are, Richards said, they moved non-COVID patients around until some of them had roommates. As of Monday there were four rooms of non-COVID patients with two people in each.

Richards also said when staff has downtime they help out environmental services, which is the department in charge of sanitizing the entire facility and washing reusable hospital gowns.

“It’s a team effort,” he said.

The hospital staff has been going through around 2,000 gowns per day, Richards said, and most everyone — including himself and hospital executives — have helped wash, dry and replenish laundry.

Additionally, he said the process for cleaning a room after a COVID patient is discharged is cumbersome: taking an average of two hours in the medical-surgical unit with the use of ultraviolet lights, foggers and disinfectants.

Richards said he’s begun updating the CPH website and Facebook page daily with a graphic displaying information about hospitalizations at the facility.

As of Monday morning, there were 21 total COVID inpatients at CPH, with seven of them in the intensive care unit and one on a ventilator. Their ages ranged from mid 20s to late 70s. The average hospital stay of a COVID patient is eight to 11 days, Richards said. Of those hospitalized, 18 were unvaccinated.

Richards said the emergency department is seeing a record number of visits, and that at least 90% of ICU occupants recently have been COVID patients.

From sanitizing to taking care of high-acuity patients, CPH employees are tired, Richards said.

“It’s very personnel intensive,” he said.

According to data from the state Department of Health and Social Services Monday, there were 142 COVID inpatients statewide, which accounted for 15.6% of hospitalizations statewide.

As of Monday, about 85% of adult ICU beds were occupied statewide.

The Gulf Coast, which includes the Kenai Peninsula, was well above the statewide COVID hospitalization rate Monday, at 34.6%.

Richards said the data throughout the pandemic shows that unvaccinated people are more likely to be admitted for COVID.

“It’s not about getting in the middle of all this political stuff … it’s just data,” he said. “Getting a vaccine certainly curtails your chances of ending up in the hospital.”

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. 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, Capstone Clinic and Central Peninsula Urgent Care.

In Soldotna, testing is available at the Central Peninsula Hospital, 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 August 17, the Seward Community Health Center is offering drive-through testing Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 3 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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