As a long-time Southeast resident, I continue to be amazed by the resiliency and determination of our close-knit communities.
The preparation that is happening in advance of COVID-19 in our communities is strong. SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) continues to enact a comprehensive response plan. As SEARHC Chief Medical Officer, I maintain daily communication with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and other state authorities, including the governor’s office and the state emergency operations center.
We have implemented up-to-date screening protocols consistent with state and CDC guidance at all entrance points into our facilities. We have implemented off-site testing and screening sites for the safety of patients and staff. The criteria for laboratory testing include fever and cough, or shortness of breath, and possible exposure to the virus, although these criteria are being broadened in some details as the pandemic progresses. We have supplies to test available in all of our communities and will continue to test all patients who meet the criteria. If you have any concern about yourself and you are ill, please contact us through our screening hotline (907-966-8799) and we will be glad to assist you.
Routine optometry, dental care, patient travel, and elective surgeries are all temporarily suspended. Currently, primary care services remain available. The goal of these suspensions is to reduce the social contact and possible community spread of COVID-19. Our hospital and emergency room staff are trained and ready to care for all urgent and emergent medical problems 24-hours a day. We have been ramping up our plans, processes and staff to respond to any surge in sick patients. Our Nurse Advice Line is available to answer your questions 24-hours a day (1-800-613-0560).
We strongly encourage all people over the age of 60, and especially those with chronic illness, to not come into the clinic, and instead contact us by phone and we will arrange to meet your needs while you remain at home. We are committed to the health of our elders, and we are expanding access to this group via phone visits, FaceTime, telehealth and home visits. Our goal is to provide a deeper level of care for this high-risk group during the COVID-19 pandemic while keeping them out of clinics to avoid any possible exposure.
The most important part of our response to this crisis is you. This is not a time for panic. It is a time to listen to and comply with our requests for your safety and health, as we face a real challenge. There has not been an equivalent health crisis in our country in living memory. Alaska has the unique opportunity to minimize our own epidemic by greatly limiting our physical contact with others to prevent the spread of this virus. If you have traveled outside the state in the last 14 days, please physically isolate yourself from others and remain in your home for 14 days. If you become ill, do not go to work. If you are ill, stay home and isolate yourself from others and call our hotline: they will screen you for testing on the phone.
The healthcare system, city and other partners are doing everything they can to prepare for this pandemic. You are the most important part of the response. By being responsible and adopting safe behaviors such as hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and most importantly, maintaining social distance (over six feet), we can avert disaster. I implore each and every one of you to practice these essential prevention strategies every day.
More information on prevention and treatment of COVID-19 can be found at covid19.searhc.org. During regular business hours, questions can be answered at our COVID-19 Hotline for SEARHC communities and patients at 907-988-8799.
Dr. Elliot Bruhl MD