Alaska seeks out-of-state medical personnel amid virus surge

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Officials in Alaska have requested help from more than 470 out-of-state medical personnel in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The state has requested nurses, patient care technicians, respiratory therapists and other health care workers, Alaska’s News Source reported. There is no guarantee the state will get the personnel it is requesting, a state health department spokesperson, Elizabeth Manning, said.

Health departments from other states have made similar requests from the federal government. Hospitals nationwide are reporting strains and staffing concerns.

Manning said the emergency procurement request for out-of-state personnel was made possible through state legislation enacted earlier this year.

Out-of-state nurses, doctors and other health care workers have been able to get “emergency courtesy licenses” to practice in Alaska during the pandemic, the news outlet reported. Glenn Hoskinson, a state commerce department spokesperson, said issuance of such licenses can take days if everything is in order.

“However, if we get hundreds of those at once, it would take weeks because we don’t have the capacity,” she said.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has asked lawmakers to consider legislation that would allow Alaska to participate in a nurse licensure compact. The state commerce department has said this would allow registered and practical nurses in any of the other participating states to practice in Alaska “without having to go through a time-consuming, redundant licensing process.”

Supporters of the approach say it would streamline the licensing process for out-of-state nurses. But critics have raised concerns about how the nurses would be monitored and questioned whether it would help with staffing when facilities nationwide also have staffing issues.

Alaska’s bipartisan House majority coalition, composed largely of Democrats, have asked Dunleavy to issue a disaster declaration to respond to the latest pandemic wave. Dunleavy said he has no intention to do so.

In a letter to legislative leaders last week, he said the virus is “endemic” and that his administration, in response, is “adapting and proposing changes that make the response to the challenge more durable, and not subject to the whims of 30-day proclamations or health orders.”

He last week expanded the agenda of the current special session to include bills dealing with nursing and telehealth. Special sessions can last 30 days. That limit would be reached on Tuesday.