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Wrangell Leaders Talk Health Mandate Responses, PPE, Testing

WRANGELL – Wrangell’s Unified Command participated in a conference call the morning of Wednesday, April 22, to share their most recent operational responses to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Leadership from the City and Borough of Wrangell (CBW), Wrangell Medical Center (WMC), and Wrangell Emergency Medical Services (EMS) were joined by healthcare representatives to discuss local reactions to state health mandates and precautions being taken by their respective organizations.

CBW Mayor Steve Prysunka was complimentary of the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) for introducing weekly testing data for the community, which he said would, “help inform the public of the level of testing locally.” As of Tuesday, April 21, a total of 77 tests had been completed in Wrangell with no positive results.

CBW Administration expressed concern about the ability for local businesses and members of the fishing fleet to acquire the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to operate under proposed state mandates anticipated to be released related to re-opening businesses and independent fishing vessel operations. CBW Manager Lisa Von Bargen said she expressed concern to the State about supply chains being available to businesses and fishermen because healthcare providers are currently having a difficult time acquiring it.

Concerns about PPE supply were echoed by EMS Director Dorianne Sprehe, who stated that an “impressive amount of PPE is used during an emergency response.” Sprehe commented that EMS has adequate PPE supply, but careful to project future supply as there has not been a local outbreak yet and local first responders have not been assured additional PPE as part of the upcoming state distribution. EMS has estimated their total PPE usage and will meet with WMC leadership in the coming days to coordinate potential PPE support for the hospital’s care partner.

To streamline patient care and further limit patient contact at the hospital, WMC has re-opened three staff entrances. The Emergency entrance remains the sole patient entrance. Health screenings are required at each entry and temperature checks are taken twice per day on all employees. To reduce contamination, all staff in patient care areas are now required to change into scrubs when arriving work and change back into personal clothes prior to leaving, to allow for in-house laundering. SEARHC Vice President and WMC Hospital Administrator Leatha Merculieff also outlined some new testing initiatives underway at the hospital.

“In caring for our most vulnerable population, WMC staff performed COVID-19 tests on all Long-Term Care residents on April 21,” said Merculieff. “For the safety of patients and staff, tests will be conducted on all inpatients prior to being admitted to the hospital. Staff testing will be conducted in the very near future.” Staff at the AICS Clinic are focused on the ongoing integration of telemedicine, a service that Director of Southern Clinic Operations Carly Allen believes will be part of the new normal and will be utilized well into the future. The plan is to safely increase the amount of face-to-face appointments in the wake of Health Mandate 15 while continuing to practice social distancing recommendations. The Clinic recently introduced an off-site pediatric immunization option, which takes place at the AICS Dental Clinic on Fridays. This location was chosen due to it being a clean space that is unoccupied on Fridays, even when dental services resume. Appointments are required for pediatric immunizations.