Health Report: Tanana Chiefs official talks Alaska hospital capacity impact on Interior Villages

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 4:27 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - As hospitals across Alaska continue to be overburdened by COVID-19 cases and staffing issues, Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) says it continues to seek to provide the best care possible for the Alaskan Native Village communities they service.

According to Jacoline Bergstrom, Executive Director of Health Services for Tanana Chiefs Conference, TCC previously would transport those in need of care to hospitals across the state, and even to other states if needed.

“What we’ve been doing throughout the pandemic, is we assess our patients who have COVID-19 in our Villages based on the level of how ill they are,” Bergstrom explained, “and if there is a need for them to be closer to the hospital or actually be in the hospital, we would fly them into town.”

Bergstrom continued, “Usually that means that we have a medevac or we could charter a plane if there are no medevac planes available, and those patients come to town, they’re assessed here, closely monitored. They either end up in a hospital bed in Fairbanks or Anchorage at times, just depending on the severity of how sick they are and what their medical needs are.”

However, with the current surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitals across Alaska are at or near capacity, as well as hospitals in nearby states. Coupled with staffing shortages, hospitals may be unable to take more patients depending on the day.

“we’re still getting people out of the village if they have an illness or a situation, be it COVID or something else, that is beyond what we are able to treat in our villages,” Bergstrom said. “we’re still getting people to town, and we will get people to town, either here, or if we’re able to secure a bed anywhere else they would be flown anywhere else. On a day to day basis, the number of available beds either in the ICU or regular hospital beds, it kind of waxes and wanes a little bit, but everyone is close to or at capacity. As patients present themselves, it’s like collaborating with each other and trying to figure out who has a bed available right now.”

Bergstrom continued, “We’ve had situations where patients from maybe Bethel or Utqiagvik or something ended up here in Fairbanks. We’ve had patients from Fairbanks who have ended up in the Mat-Su or who ended up in maybe Juneau - but we’ve also had patients who were flown to Oregon or Colorado. But as this Delta variant keeps impacting, and we’re seeing the surge throughout significant areas of the United States, it becomes harder and harder to get beds anywhere.”

As of now, TCC will be providing those in need of medical attention with whatever care they can find. But according to Bergstrom, the results may be far from preferable.

“We’re not abandoning our patients, by all means we’re not abandoning our patients,” Bergstrom emphasized. “But we are in the situation, and will be over the next couple of weeks, where we’re going to end up with patients, either rural patients or urban patients who are going to be in a situation where there may not be a bed available for them for a number of days. That means that they will get whatever the treatment that is available in an outpatient setting. But you cannot create an ICU environment in an outpatient clinic.”

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