WRANGELL – Wrangell Medical Center (WMC) leadership has finalized surge plans in the event COVID-19 cases be confirmed in the City and Borough of Wrangell (CBW) and patients suffering from the virus be admitted to the hospital. While responses have been introduced over the past month to limit close contact and ensure patient and staff safety, plans are in place should COVID-19 enter the facility or present in the form of an outbreak requiring mass admittance.
Upon admittance of a positive COVID-19 patient and known confirmed case(s) in the community, WMC administration will move to Tier 3 of the pandemic response plan, which may require the Long-Term Care (LTC) be evacuated and moved to an alternative care site for the safety of the residents. Administration has been in contact with the State of Alaska Division of Health Care Services to secure the proper waivers for nursing home relocation. Steps have been finalized to ensure all residents are safely transported to one of the approved locations and all required staff, supplies and services will be immediately available at the alternative site.
“In planning for Tier 3, our top priority has been the safety and wellbeing of our LTC residents,” said SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) Vice President and WMC Administrator Leatha Merculieff. “The reality is, depending on the impact COVID-19 has on our community, evacuation may be necessary. I am confident in the groundwork laid out by our local Incident Command and the level of preparation that has taken place in our community.”
The relocation of LTC residents will afford WMC staff the opportunity to care for a surge in patients due to the pandemic. Available staffing would allow for up to 16 hospital admissions in a surge situation, including the potential creation of an isolated COVID-19 wing. Surge plans could expand to include up to 24 hospital admissions, but staffing would be less than ideal. As it stands, surge plans would create an immediate need for 2-3 additional staff for both dietary and environmental services, along with the need for six additional nursing staff (three RN, three CNA). Those shortages may require redeployment or enlisting volunteers.
In February, WMC began operating in the Tier 1 stage of the response plan – restricting access to the building, implementing daily screening of all persons entering the facility, eliminating visiting hours, and ensuring staff safety during the pandemic. Tier 2 was activated after identifying the first person under investigation (PUI) in Wrangell, leading to further access restrictions at WMC, ventilator education being provided to all physicians and nurses, and the reduction of non-essential therapy services. In addition, the construction of doors to isolate the LTC wing, introduction of an alternative COVID-19 testing site, and creation of an outdoor triage area were completed as part of the Tier 2 response.
“At WMC, we have remained proactive in our COVID-19 response since introducing protocols in early-February,” said Merculieff. “We’ve aimed to be overprepared, planning for when the virus hits our community and never letting our guard down. So far, Wrangell has not seen any confirmed cases, but that doesn’t mean we can celebrate. It just means we have more time to prepare our staff and accumulate supplies.”
Last week, SEARHC Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elliot Bruhl announced Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center’s (MEMC) surge plans, which involves the utilization of the adjacent Mt. Edgecumbe High School to house hospital overflow, mild COVID-19 cases, PUI, and hospital staff. This would allow patients from Southeast communities, particularly smaller communities without resources, to be sent to Sitka for ongoing care.