State extends contract for traveling health care providers

Wrangell Medical Center will get an extra month of help from three traveling health care professionals, as the state has extended its contract for the workers.

Alaska is adding to its $87 million contract that brought in about 470 out-of-state health care workers to assist hospitals, clinics and schools stressed this fall by the heavy workload of COVID-19 patients and testing, and to provide relief for overwhelmed medical staffs in multiple communities.

In September, the state signed up Atlanta-based DLH Solutions to bring the workers to Alaska under a 90-day contract.

The health care workers have individual contracts, and state officials are working with DLH to figure out which workers will want to extend, said State Public Health Division Section Chief Gene Wiseman.

“Identify those who are not going to renew their contract, source new workers to come, and then hopefully have them cross over with a couple of days of overlap,” Wiseman said on a call with reporters Dec. 9. “So that onboarding can happen and minimize any impact on facilities’ operating schedules.”

While the contracted workers won’t be in the state forever, Wiseman said he’s received positive feedback from hospitals around the state regarding the extra help.

“They’ve allowed hospitals and administrations … to focus on the long-term solutions and problems,” he said.

The state contract with DLH has been extended to Jan. 20. Wiseman said the state is applying for federal funds to fully reimburse the extension. The original contract also is eligible for federal reimbursement.

“Wrangell was fortunate to benefit from this state contract during our recent COVID surge,” Carly Allen, Wrangell Medical Center administrator, said last Friday. The community set a record in November with 66 COVID cases.

“WMC had as many as eight travelers (including registered nurses and certified nursing assistants) at one time during the state’s contract. These travelers assisted in a variety of areas including long-term care, acute care, and with immunizations and testing,” Allen said. “We have three extending into January.”

Unlike the state’s largest hospitals in Anchorage and Fairbanks, Wrangell was not overwhelmed with hospital patients amid the thousands of new COVID-19 cases reported statewide this fall. The Wrangell hospital issue is a long-term staffing shortage, Allen said. The temporary workers were a big help, taking pressure off staff, she said.

Since the pandemic count started in March 2020, almost 3,200 Alaskans have been hospitalized with COVID, though just six in Wrangell, according to state health department statistics as of Monday. Ketchikan has had 31 hospital patients and 14 deaths, and Petersburg has reported 15 hospitalizations and three deaths. The state has reported one COVID-related death in Wrangell.

Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, the state’s largest hospital, was in the contract for 161 temporary health care workers. The Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage was on the list for 60 personnel.

The temporary workers also were assigned to other facilities in Anchorage and in Fairbanks, Kodiak, Valdez, Homer and Utqiagvik, and schools in Sitka, Unalaska, Dillingham, Kotzebue, Nome, Skagway, Petersburg and the Kenai Peninsula.


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