Anchorage Suddenly Has a lot More ICU Bed Capacity. Why?

In an update, Alaska DHSS issued a response to the inflated Alaska ICU capacity.

On September 23, there was an announcement in the Alaska DHSS Case Count Summary that went largely unnoticed:

“Hospitals will now report their patient and bed data directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the HHS Protect TeleTracking system, and DHSS will use that data for the hospital dashboard.”

‘HHS Protect Tele-what,’ you ask? For the explanation, we need to go look at July.

On July 15 the Trump administration ordered hospitals to send data on coronavirus patients straight to the Department of Health and Human Services, instead of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The announcement, which took the CDC by surprise, alarmed health experts who feared sending the data to Washington, D.C., would be politicized or withheld from the public. The explanation given at the time, came from Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services in July, “The CDC’s old data gathering operation once worked well monitoring hospital information across the country, but it’s an inadequate system today.”

On August 20, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said they were reversing course on changes to the way hospitals report critical information on the coronavirus pandemic to the government, returning responsibility for data collection to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The reversal and announcement came amid increasing reports that the new system had been plagued by delays and inconsistencies in data since being implemented in July.

However, one day later on August 21, HHS said it, not the CDC, would continue to receive COVID-19 hospital data.

NPR reported on September 21, that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services appeared to be planning on cracking down on hospitals that do not report COVID-19 data daily into the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ HHS Protect TeleTracking system, which would result in the termination of the Medicare provider agreement with hospitals effectively financially destroying them.

Since Alaska DHSS announced the return of our hospital data to the dashboard this week, Anchorage ICU bed capacity has increased without explanation.

Anchorage ICU bed capacity has been 92 for quite some time.

On September 27, as data began re-appearing on the Alaska COVID-19 dashboard, I noticed an Anchorage ICU bed capacity of 164.

That’s an increase in capacity of 72 ICU beds for Anchorage since hospitals began reporting data directly to the HHS Protect TeleTracking system.

The new ICU bed capacity on the Municipality dashboard matches the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Another issue I’ve found is that the state ICU bed capacity on the Municipality dashboard shows 453 but on the State Dashboard it shows a capacity of 221.

We have a discrepancy in the state’s ICU bed capacity and a question regarding the newly reported Anchorage ICU bed capacity.

These are both issues that the state and city of Anchorage must address, but personally I find the Anchorage ICU bed capacity to be more interesting.

Posts and comments on social media from people who say they work in the healthcare industry have raised more than one eyebrow at the ICU bed numbers being reported by both the state of Alaska and the Municipality of Anchorage in the past forty-eight hours.

Anchorage reported having 58 ICU beds available on Tuesday, but that number doesn’t sit well with those who say they work in local hospitals.

One healthcare worker wrote:

“I work in Providence, and I know for a fact we are full in ICU. We filled out the last bed in IMCU (Intermediate Care Unit) last night, CICU is Covid island, and they are full. There are perhaps three rooms open in the ACC (Acute Care Center). Those numbers are bullshit.”

Another said:

“I can’t speak for the other hospitals, but in the last few weeks we’ve had a number of holds in the emergency department, including a couple ICU holds because we don’t have the room. One nurse I work with said there had been a lot of patients not being in the right unit.”

A nurse in Fairbanks wrote on Facebook that Alaska was diverting ICU cases to Seattle early last week because of healthcare personnel issues.

As COVID-19 cases continue to increase in Anchorage, ASDK12 Superintendent Deena Bishop said that she’ll likely push back the return to in-person schooling because of a surge of COVID-19 cases leaving Alaskans to wonder —

  • What is the ICU bed capacity in the Municipality of Anchorage?
  • Where did the extra Anchorage ICU bed capacity come from that is now being reported on both the Municipality and state dashboards?
  • Why is there a glaring discrepancy between the state ICU bed capacity on the Municipality dashboard and the state of Alaska dashboard?
  • Are hospitals having personnel issues affecting their ability to accept patients?
  • Have these issues arisen because there’s a problem with the data that has been reported to HHS?

The public, especially high risk individuals, look at the data released by the state daily and use that to gauge how COVID-19 is affecting our community.

COVID-19 cases in Anchorage continue to climb, our rate of transmission is now over 1% and the 7 day test positivity for Anchorage has been over 3% the past two days. Having correct data is important and the public needs to be able to trust the data being released to the public.

Alaska DHSS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.