Doctors in Alaska are being forced to ration potentially life-saving care for COVID-19 patients in the wake of a massive surge currently hitting the state.
Currently, more than 200 people are hospitalized with the virus in the state, with cases and deaths steadily increasing in recent days as well.
Staff at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, Alaska, told CNBC they are facing a shortage of equipment to treat the patients coming in.
This is pushing them to having to make tough choices as to which patients will receive crucial treatment, and who won’t – knowing the patients who do not receive the treatment will likely die.
‘It’s terrible that I’m living through this because I’ve never seen more people die in my career,’ Dr Jeremy Gitomer, a nephrologist who has worked at the hospital for 25 years, told CNBC.
He told of a particular story in which a 70-year-old woman who was on a dialysis machine for six days had to have her treatment cut so the machine could be used on a 48-year-old man with a higher chance of survival.
Unfortunately, both patients died, just like 95 percent of other COVID-19 patients receiving dialysis treatment while hospitalized due to the virus.
State health officials activated a ‘crisis of standard care’ on October 2, providing doctors with the legal protections necessary to make those kinds of decisions.
Gitomer told CNBC that the hospital is now rejecting the transfer of patients from other health care facilities who have a low chance of survival, because they can not treat everyone due to a lack of resources.
In Anchorage, the city where nearly half of Alaskans live, only six of 71 ICU beds are vacant – or eight percent – and 26 of 509 total hospital beds are available – just over five percent.
This has cascaded the problems being faced in Anchorage onto other hospitals as well.
Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, 40 miles northeast of Anchorage, is facing issues as well as the facility is unable to transfer away patients like normal.
Renal and heart failure patients would usually get transferred to Providence when they arrived a Mat-Su, but now they have to stay at the less-resourced, smaller, hospital.
This has led to a surge at the hospital that physicians are having trouble handling.
‘Instead of one nurse being able to care for four or five emergency department patients, they might be caring for ten emergency department patients,’ Dr Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer who also works in the Mat-Su ER, told CNBC.
‘Patients having to board in the emergency department wait for a really extended period of time.’
In order to deal with these types of situations, the state imported 400 medical professionals last month.
It has not been enough, though, because hospitals are remaining short on the personnel needed to deal with this surge in patients.
Alaska currently is recording the highest rate of COVID-19 cases of any state in America, with 826 per every 100,000 people testing positive for the virus over the past seven days.
More than 1,200 Covid cases were reported by the state on Monday, and the state is recording just under 900 cases per day – an increase of around 50 percent from a month ago – though average deaths still remain in the single digits.
Experts point to the end of summer as reason for the uptick of cases.
Alaska is colder than the rest of U.S. with the daily temperature highs around in the mid-40s this week, compared to highs in the 50s and 60s this week in Seattle at the northwest corner of the mainland.
This has pushed many residents to spend more time indoors, where the virus is more likely to spread.
Some communities, particularly those without access to running water or sewer systems, are already at an increased risk for respiratory disease, Zink told CNBC.