ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A major overflow site is prepared for a quick start to take Alaska patients if the coronavirus pandemic overwhelms bed capacity, but staffing remains a concern, officials said.

Heidi Hedberg of the state Department of Health and Social Services said the hospital overflow site at Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage can be ready for use within 48 hours, Alaska Public Media reported Friday.

The arena was converted to an overflow site in April in case hospitals were overloaded with COVID-19 patients, while another facility at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks also was prepared.

Neither were used for medical treatment, but throughout the summer the Alaska Airlines Center remained ready for medical use rather than reopening for sports, said Hedberg, the department’s director of public health.

The facility is prepared with patient areas, beds and nurse stations and the state needs two days to implement the staffing, medicine and laundry services necessary to operate the center, she said.

“That’s what we consider a ‘warm,’ ready status,” Hedberg said.


Jared Kosin, director of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, said having enough healthy staff for operation remains an issue.

“We have all these alternate care sites in theory, and they’re ready to go. But the question is: will we have staffing,” Kosin said.

Kosin and Hedberg said the state has options for staff recruiting, including a database of licensed healthcare workers who are retired or not working who can be called in an emergency.

The Alaska Respond program is part of the Emergency System for Advance Registration of Volunteer Health Professionals, a federally mandated program.

“We’re always recruiting for new licensed health care professionals into Alaska Respond, especially individuals that just retired and they’re not working anymore, (and) still have their license,” Hedberg said.

Alaska also has partnerships with nonprofit groups including Samaritan’s Purse, which provided healthcare workers to Bristol Bay during the previous fishing season.


State health officials talk to hospital personnel daily to assess need, Hedberg said.

“There’s options out there. And so what we want to do is keep all options on the table, and constantly revisit those options,” Hedberg said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.