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Medical Director Updates Assembly and Community COVID-19 Team Addresses Mandate

WRANGELL – On Wednesday, April 15, representatives from the City and Borough of Wrangell (CBW), Wrangell Medical Center (WMC), the Alaska Division of Public Health, the Alaska Island Community Services (AICS) Clinic, and Wrangell’s emergency operations center participated in their weekly teleconference to advance community planning for COVID-19 response. The teleconference was preceded by a Tuesday, April 14, COVID-19 report by WMC Medical Director Dr. Lynn Prysunka to the CBW Assembly as part of their regular meeting agenda, which covered the gamut of planning items currently underway at the hospital and within all of the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC).

Erin Michael, Public Health Nurse for the communities of Wrangell and Petersburg, initiated conversation at the community meeting about Health Mandate 14, recently implemented by Governor Dunleavy. The mandate addresses sheltering for first responders, hospital workers, and homeless populations. If members of the above populations were to require quarantine safely without exposure to their families, the state is prepared to implement non-congregate shelter solutions, including hotels, dormitories, and properly modified non-traditional structures. Funding for this program is currently provided to the state by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Persons with questions about this program should be emailed to covidquestions@alaska.gov.

Michael also engaged in discussions with WMC and AICS Clinic Administration on the possibility of offsite testing in remote areas, such as Olive Cove. SEARHC Vice President and WMC Hospital Administrator Leatha Merculieff stated that the hospital received their ID NOW rapid testing machine on Thursday, giving Wrangell providers a lifeline of near-immediate results for COVID-19 testing in the most high-priority cases.

At the Borough Assembly meeting, Dr. Prysunka discussed the current ventilator situation at WMC, which includes three older ventilators not intended for prolonged use. “The plan is not to maintain vented patients, but to transfer those patients to a higher level of care once deemed necessary,” said Prysunka. “Seattle thinks they’ll have ICU beds available in Mid-May for Alaska patients, Anchorage is currently taking patients, and Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center has established a COVID wing that is capable of absorbing the need for Southeast.”

Addressing a question raised by a CBW Assembly member, Dr. Prysunka discussed efforts to contact retired nurses for possible enlistment if a crisis presented itself. In the event of an outbreak, proper staffing may be hard to maintain. Conversations with retired staff have taken place to gauge availability, with the most likely outcome being these staff assisting in primary care services at the AICS Clinic. Emergency medical services responders may be asked to participate in an increased capacity, but not in a provider role.

WMC is currently accepting applications for a temporary, 8-hour Certified Nursing Assistant Program and can apply at www.searhc.org. For question please contact HR Specialist Tammy White at 907.874.7000.