Afternoon keynote: Addressing the impact of the Delta variant

Jared Kosin, CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, and Dr. Anne Zink, Chief Medical Officer of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, delivered the afternoon keynote at the 2021 Alaska State of Reform Health Policy Conference. 

 

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During the keynote, both Kosin and Dr. Zink touched on COVID-19’s impact on Alaska’s hospitals, vaccine hesitancy, and the risks behind opting to not get vaccinated.

In discussing the pressure hospitals are facing amidst the Delta surge, Kosin specifically referenced the experience of the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. 

“The idea that [Matsu] hospital is completely full of just COVID patients — many of which are ICU-level beyond what the ICU footprint is — that little snapshot in and of itself I think is a good representation of the type of stress I’m talking about.”

He explained that hospitals around the state are also experiencing these surges in ICU patients. 

“Anchorage has been experiencing this for months now. They’ve been full. To see it hit Mat-Su and Fairbanks with them operating at those high capacity levels, seeing reports out of Central Peninsula Hospital with the same thing. It really starts to kind of cripple our ability to transfer into Anchorage and in our tertiary level hospitals.”

Dr. Zink, who is a practicing emergency room physician at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, described the stress on the hospital that she has witnessed first hand. 

“[Mat-Su] has 14 beds that are structured to be ICU beds. It’s an abnormal day when most of them are filled in and you try to keep one as a crash bed, which stretches the staffing.  They had 20 ICU patients today. So they had six patients cared for outside of the ICU that would typically be cared for in the ICU.

…When my colleague started their shift this morning, there were eight additional patients boarding in the emergency department waiting for admission elsewhere in the hospital.”

Kosin and Dr. Zink also touched on the reasons why some people refrain from getting the vaccine. Dr. Zink brought up the idea of “tribalism” surrounding the topic of vaccinations. 

“The second thing I would mention is that, unfortunately, vaccines have become tribal. We have our tribes, and we have our reasons for making decisions. That is a very human nature aspect. Data doesn’t always convince us to leave our tribes.”

 

Kosin pointed to the shifting culture surrounding vaccinations as a step in the right direction.

“But, at the end of the day, the federal government has taken action. They are going to require the vaccination of essentially all health care entities. But even more so we have seen a shift in the industry across the country going in this direction. We’ve seen it in our own state. A lot of the [Tribal health] systems took this progressive step.”

Dr. Zink placed the risk of getting sick on the unvaccinated.

“I think one of our failures in this pandemic has been how dichotomous we have made things. How black and white everything has become. Everything we do comes with risks. Getting in the car, driving, sending your kids to school, there’s always some risk associated with it. 

… [Getting vaccinated] is my own personal choice … it 100% is … but your choice does impact others, just like if you drive on the right side of the road, it impacts how the rest of the road goes that day.”