For several weeks, YKHC has prepared our staff, facilities and communities for COVID-19. Our staff have received education and drilled for treating potential COVID-19 patients. We have added significantly more beds in the hospital and secured additional facilities through our partners for patients needing isolation and other uses.
YKHC has also provided our communities constant communication and education via our website at www.ykhc.org/covid-19, social media, email, weekly teleconferences with tribes and partners, radio interviews, and public service announcements on KCUK, KEDI, KICY, KSKO, and KYUK.
Mandatory staff health screenings began in mid-March; staff have trained on the proper usage of personal protective equipment (PPE); health aides have trained to test for COVID-19 in villages; and we have plans to increase testing and perform contact tracing in villages.
All villages should be proactive and designate a suitable facility where people with COVID-19 can isolate if their home is small and has elders or others with serious health conditions. I strongly encourage tribal governments to designate a representative to attend our weekly teleconferences to ask questions and receive guidance on COVID-19 preparations. In any given week, only a quarter of our 50 villages participate. Tribes should email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive an invitation.
We significantly expanded our surge capacity. The hospital expanded our inpatient capacity from 26 to 45 beds. Further, we have added eight new beds dedicated for higher acuity patients. Patients with respiratory illness have been separated from all other patients.
Drive-thru COVID-19 testing is available in Bethel. As of April 1, we tested more than 40 people for COVID-19 from Bethel and villages with zero positive tests. Several results are pending.
Lastly, we continue to work with our community and government partners to prepare external care sites that will be ready, if needed.
For over two months we have prepared for COVID-19. Although we order more PPE each and every day, if we encounter a large surge of COVID-19 patients we do not have enough PPE due to global shortages and rationing by manufacturers.
We are also severely challenged by living in a remote area with 50 villages with no road access to the hospital. If a large surge happens simultaneously in numerous villages, our health system will be overwhelmed.
Moreover, under this worst case scenario, and even with National Guard support, there will likely not be enough timely medevacs for all patients. This is precisely why a no travel mandate for nonessential business in rural Alaska is so very important.
All of us are more vulnerable due to our remoteness and lack of widespread, rapid testing. For these reasons, please take the mandate seriously, practice social distancing and good hand hygiene . . . our health depends on it.