A sign flashing "Keep COVID down" also offers information on where to get testing and vaccines on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, on the Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

SPH holding steady in COVID-19 surge

Despite hospital crisis in Anchorage, Homer’s hospital not impacted, spokesperson tells Homer City Council.

With other Alaska hospitals being stressed to overflowing with an influx of COVID-19 patients, South Peninsula Hospital has not had to turn any patients away, hospital public information officer Derotha Ferraro told the Homer City Council on Monday.

The hospital is short staffed, she said, and Homer is hiring. Staffing levels can sometimes lead to delays in patients being admitted, as from the emergency room to acute care.

Though SPH’s situation is stable, Public Health Nurse Lorne Carroll told the council that unless vaccination rates increase, the southern Kenai Peninsula will continue to suffer from the pandemic.

Tuesday, Providence Alaska Medical Center announced it has developed and enacted procedures to ration medical care and treatments, according to the Associated Press. The emergency room is overflowing, with some patients having to wait hours in their cars, Dr. Kristen Solan Walkinshaw, chief of staff at Providence, told the AP. About 30% of Providence’s patients are COVID-19 related.

Providence’s situation comes as Alaska is seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients hospitalized. On Wednesday, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported 201 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 who are hospitalized, with 14 more patients under investigation for COVID-19. Sixteen new patients were hospitalized on Monday and 34 patients are on ventilators.

In response to a question from Homer City Council member Rachel Lord about if South Peninsula Hospital reports its capacity on a state website, Ferraro said SPH is not listed because it is not a hospital that other facilities would send patients to. On the other hand, SPH does transfer patients to other Alaska hospitals.

Regarding capacity elsewhere, Ferraro said, “Even though some of those areas said ‘closed,’ I need to explain to the community there is a hub of conversation that happens every time someone needs to be transferred to a higher level of care. … Hospitals are working hard to find the right bed for the right level of care.”

For example, SPH did a medevac of a patient over the weekend, Ferraro said. There also haven’t been any transfer delays recently.

SPH also will be upgrading current hospital rooms to negative pressure rooms, making more beds and rooms available for COVID-19 patients. The hospital also will be remodeling its Bartlett Street COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinic to include rooms for giving monoclonal infusions, a highly successful treatment for those who do get COVID-19.

“Testing, treatment and vaccines are all readily available in this rural town, which isn’t necessarily the same in all areas of rural America,” she said in a follow-up phone call on Wednesday.

At the council’s COVID-19 briefing, Carroll said getting vaccinated for COVID-19 can reduce the risk of hospitalization and death.

“The take home here is that much of this is completely preventable with access for vaccines,” he said.

In response to a question from council member Caroline Venuti if immunity from getting COVID-19 will add to herd immunity from vaccinated people, Carroll said that immunity from the disease only lasts about 90 days.

The delta variant also is more infectious, with one person exposed spreading it to eight or nine more people.

“We’re seeing more cases than we have ever seen,” he said. “… With more cases being produced, that offers exponentially the chance for more mutations to occur.”

That means the outlook for the pandemic is not good, Carroll said.

“I think we’re in it for a very long time in the absence of high rates of vaccination,” he told the council.

Ferraro said a new directive from President Joe Biden requiring health care workers to be vaccinated at any facility receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds has not yet been implemented. South Peninsula Hospital is waiting for a directive from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, she said.

“Until we get written regulations from CMS, we’re on hold,” she said.

According to Alaska Department of Health and Social Services data summaries, for Sept. 9 through Sept. 14, there were 58 positive cases for Homer, 15 for Anchor Point and five for Kenai Peninsula South, for a total of 78 cases.

Most areas of Alaska are in a high alert level, defined as more than 100 cases per 100,000 people. The statewide alert level now stands at high, with 637.3 positive cases per 100,000 people for the past seven days. Statewide, 94,105 Alaskans have tested positive for COVID-19. As of Wednesday, the percentage rate of patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19 is 17.3%. The testing rate is 9.62%.

South Peninsula Hospital has done 826 COVID-19 tests with 75 positive for the week of Sept. 8-14, Ferraro wrote in an email on Wednesday. That’s a 9% positivity rate. In the same time period there were 14 COVID-19 related visits to the emergency department out of 114 total visits and eight new hospitalizations. The hospital did 27 monoclonal antibody infusions and administered 91 new vaccinations from Sept. 8-14.

In its Tuesday report, the Department of Health and Social Services announced a record single-day count of 1,095 positive COVID cases statewide for Tuesday. Of those, 1,068 were Alaskans and 27 nonresidents.

The case count included 24 in Kenai, 19 in Soldotna, 19 in Homer, nine in Seward, four in Anchor Point, three in the Kenai Peninsula Borough North and one in the Kenai Peninsula Borough South. The count also included on nonresident tested in Homer.

At South Peninsula Hospital, because of the level of community spread of COVID-19, visitors are not allowed except for those with appointments. Long Term Care is open to approved visitors by appointment. One designated visitor per patient per stay is permitted for pediatric patients, obstetric patients, surgery patients and end of life care.

Testing locations

Officials encourage anyone with symptoms to test for COVID-19, despite vaccination status.

Testing is 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at the SPH COVID-19 clinic on Bartlett Street for people with symptoms, traveling, for pre-procedure screening and for exposure six days after exposure of after being at social gatherings.

SVT Health & Wellness offers testing to anyone at its three SVT Health & Wellness locations: 880 East End Road, Homer (226-2228); 72351 Milo Fritz Ave., Anchor Point (226-2238), and 206 Main Street, Seldovia (907-435-3262).

Where to get vaccinated

South Peninsula Hospital continues to offer walk-in vaccines daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 4201 Bartlett Street, and by appointment at www.sphosp.org.

Vaccines also are offered by appointment at Homer Medical Clinic and the SPH Family Care Clinic. For more information at the Bartlett Street clinic, talk to your doctor or call 235-0235 for additional information.

To make appointments at Homer Medical Center, call 235-8586

To make appointments at the South Peninsula Family Care Clinic, call 235-0900. The Moderna, Pfizer and Janssen vaccines are offered.

People who are immunocompromised can now get a third dose by either a provider’s referral or by submitting an attestation form.

People qualify for the third dose if they are receiving active cancer treatment, if they received an organ transplant and take medicine to suppress the immune system, if they have received a stem cell transplant within the last two years and take medicine to suppress the immune system, if they have a moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency, if they have an advanced or untreated HIV condition, or if they take high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that suppress the immune response.

Safeway – Homer, 90 Sterling Highway, offers clinics 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday by appointment or walk-ins. Call 226-1060 for appointments. The Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines are offered.

Kachemak Medical Group, 4129 Bartlett Street, offers vaccines by appointment. Call 235-7000.

Ulmer’s Pharmacy, 3858 Lake Street, offers Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines by appointment of walk-ins. Call 235-7760.

Ninilchik Clinic, 15765 Kingsley Road, Ninilchik offers Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines by appointment and Pfizer on demand. Call 907-567-3970.

SVT Health & Wellness offers Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson/Janssen and Moderna vaccines for established medical patients of the three SVT Health & Wellness locations: 880 East End Road, Homer (226-2228); 72351 Milo Fritz Ave., Anchor Point (226-2238), and 206 Main Street, Seldovia (907-435-3262).

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

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