Point of View: Are We Okay? A Message from Alaska’s Hospitals and Nursing Homes on COVID-19

Over the past month, decision makers, stakeholders, and media have routinely inquired about “hospital capacity” in light of increasing COVID-19 case counts. The real question being asked is “are we okay?” The Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association has been answeringthis question as any hospital would: we look at our daily census report (patients in a hospitalbed), consider any relevant variables, and comment where we stand with capacity at the given moment.

The good news is capacity has been strong and intact. In general, ICU capacity is consistentlyopen, vent utilization is low, and medical/surgical occupancy is very manageable. However, does this really answer the question “are we okay?”

Hospital capacity is crucial, but it is finite and a lagging indicator for where we as a public stand with COVID-19. We had 116 new cases yesterday, 78 the day prior, and 55 before that. A lot has changed from just one month ago when it was concerning to see 20 positive cases in a day.

So, are we okay? The answer is no. Simple math dictates where this all leads. We have seen this play out in Florida, Arizona, Texas, New York, and the list goes on. There is a direct correlation between positive case counts in a community and the risk for nursing home outbreaks. Unchecked case counts will lead to increased hospitalizations and deaths, and we will be brought to a breaking point.

Yes, we have hospital beds open, and we have surge plans ready to deploy. However, our health care heroes are not immune to COVID. If our frontline caretakers get infected, which they will, we could build hundreds of hospitals overnight and it will not make a difference.

COVID-19 is exhausting and we all wish it would go away, and no one wants to go back into lockdown. Unfortunately, rapidly increasing case counts and basic math tell us we are headed right back to lockdown if we do not change. If you want to avoid this, wear a mask, limit your contact, stop participating in large gatherings, and move away from unsafe activities.

Hospital capacity is intact for today, but unless we change the way we handle this as a people, it won’t be tomorrow.

Jared Kosin, J.D., M.B.A., is the President and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association (ASHNHA). Kosin is an attorney with an MBA and extensive experience in health care and public policy. ASHNHA represents more than 65 hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare organizations who employ over 10,000 Alaskans. Its membership spans geographically from PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center to Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital in Utqiagvik.