5 Things Alaska: Health policy preview, Keynote video w/ Dr. Anne Zink, Adult ICU closures


Emily Boerger


You may have seen my note yesterday about our news that State of Reform is now part of the HMA family of companies. It’s a smart, mission-driven group of folks at work to improve the health care systems for the communities they serve. So, there is strong cultural alignment with us, we’re happy to say.

For our readers and conference-goers, things won’t change much. We’ll still be covering Alaska health care and health policy as best we can. We’ll still rely on our Convening Panel to help tee up our agenda and speakers in a non-partisan, policy agnostic sort of way. But, more on the future soon.

For now, here are five things we think are worth knowing for senior health care executives and health policy leaders in Alaska for the month of September, 2021.





With help from Emily Boerger

1. Providence continues rationing care

Providence announced last week it was “rationing medical care and treatments” amidst the COVID-19 surge. Dr. Kristen Solana Walkinshaw, a member of Providence’s COVID triage committee, says the hospital expects rationed care to continue for at least another two weeks.

Alaska is currently reporting the highest COVID case rate per capita in the country. The US average case rate is 40 per 100,000. Alaska’s rate is 117 per 100,000 — a 42% increase over the past 2 weeks. As of Wednesday, adult ICUs are closed at Providence, Alaska Regional Hospital, Central Peninsula Hospital, and the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. Adult ICUs are near capacity at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, Bartlett Regional Hospital, and PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center.


2. State of Reform keynote videos now available

In case you weren’t able to join us last week at the 2021 Alaska State of Reform Health Policy Conference, we recently made available our two keynote conversations from the event. Ella Goss, CEO of Providence Medical Center Alaska, kicked off the day with our Morning Keynote where she discussed investments in the social determinants of health, value-driven outcomes, and utilizing technology to improve care.

During our Afternoon Keynote, ASHNHA CEO Jared Kosin and Dr. Anne Zink, Chief Medical Officer of DHSS, offered their takes on capacity challenges in Alaska’s hospitals, the Delta surge, and vaccine hesitancy. “[Getting vaccinated] is my own personal choice,” said Zink, “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.” Video of their full comments is available here.


3. Health policy priorities in the months ahead

Over the course of two separate breakout sessions during the State of Reform Conference, six legislators offered their observations on the health care and fiscal policy they will prioritize in the months ahead. Both panels agreed that the Medicaid budget remains a priority, though their proposals for the safety net were vastly different. Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson says she’s a “very big advocate” of maintaining and potentially increasing Medicaid funding, while Rep. Mike Prax says he’d like to see fewer services offered through the program.

The Democratic leadership panel highlighted behavioral health supports, access, public health, and health care staffing shortages. Legislators on the Republican leadership panel said price transparency, consumer choice, and health care costs will be top of mind.


4. Economic impacts of vaccine hesitancy

At the beginning of 2021, Alaska had one of the highest per capita COVID-19 vaccination rates. Now, Alaska ranks 31st in vaccinations per 100,000 for those 18 and older, according to the CDC. During our “Overcoming vaccine hesitancy & barriers to consumer education” panel, economist Jonathan King laid out the ways vaccine hesitancy is impacting Alaska’s economy.

King says economic costs include restrictions on travel, limited entry into public spaces, cancelled surgeries, and wear and tear on the medical system. He says opting out of the vaccine “has costs not just on the medical spectrum but also with keeping parents out of the workforce.” According to the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker, from June through August 2021, preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations among unvaccinated adults cost over $5 billion nationwide.

5. Video: Value driven systems of care

At the State of Reform conference, three experts from diverse viewpoints offered their perspectives on how value driven systems of care are evolving in Alaska. During the conversation, which we made available in full here, presenters discussed establishing a clinically-integrated network in the state and the importance of cross-silo care.

Dr. Rob Lada brought a provider’s voice to the conversation, noting that traditional models of care focus on procedures that bring in more revenue but can negatively impact patient outcomes. He says, “[Silos] create a tremendous amount of variability in care and treatment, which ends up costing the overall system more and leaves a lot of folks at the wayside who are not getting the care that they need.”