Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file
Lawmakers at the Alaska State Capitol, shown in this June 7, photo, heard a bill that would make it easier for hospitals to hire workers from other states on Tuesday, with only a week left in the Legislature’s third special session of the year.

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file Lawmakers at the Alaska State Capitol, shown in this June 7, photo, heard a bill that would make it easier for hospitals to hire workers from other states on Tuesday, with only a week left in the Legislature’s third special session of the year.

Lawmakers fast-track bill to aid health care hiring

Facing COVID surge, Alaska’s hospitals need workers fast

A bill to bring relief to Alaska’s beleaguered hospitals is being pushed through the Alaska State Legislature, which is currently in the last week of its third special session.

Some lawmakers have called on Gov. Mike Dunleavy to declare a state of emergency over Alaska’s health care infrastructure, as the state tries to combat surging COVID-19 case numbers and strained hospital capacity. But Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum told a Senate committee Tuesday an emergency declaration would not give the governor the specific powers health care providers said they needed.

“The disaster declaration does not give us the tools we need,” Crum told the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee. “It provides the governor with broad authority but does not allow the governor to amend or change laws.”

Crum said the extended COVID-19 pandemic had created a different public health crisis by straining the state’s health infrastructure, and health care providers needed to hire workers quickly. The administration reached out to health care providers before drafting Senate Bill 3006, Crum said, and staffing was the largest concern. The governor’s proposed bill would reduce barriers to training and hiring, Crum said, and allow health care providers to bring staff from the Lower 48 more quickly.

[Labor of love: Unions collect for local service organizations]

But one of the provisions in SB3006 would suspend the requirement that hospitals and nursing homes conduct background checks with DHSS before hiring, which drew questioning from committee chair Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, who voiced concern at the idea. Crum said providers and health care workers themselves must still provide backgrounds checks, just not from DHSS, allowing workers in other states to begin working in Alaska more quickly.

DHSS Director of Health Care Services Renee Gayheart told the committee third party background checks do provide for a number of civil registries, but not necessarily the same ones checked by DHSS.

Costello noted the bill would only be heard before the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, and was being expedited so that it could be put to a vote faster.

Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association President and CEO Jared Kosin gave public testimony in support of the bill, and urged its swift passage. Kosin said health care workers were under strain and feeling exhausted.

Kosin and other health care officials have said the majority people hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, but there are vaccinated people still being hospitalized. ASHNHA released a graphic on social media Tuesday showing the number of hospitalizations in Anchorage and the amount of vaccinated and unvaccinated patients.

According to ASHNHA, there are 17 unvaccinated patients and 1 vaccinated patient on ventilators; 28 unvaccinated patients and five vaccinated patients are in the ICU and 110 unvaccinated patients and 28 vaccinated patients were hospitalized for COVID-19 between Aug. 22-28.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 18

Here’s what to expect this week.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Friday, May 17, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, May 16, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Students and staff play a kickball game on the field between the Marie Drake Building and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Friday afternoon. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
School district leaders debate biggest needs for extra $5.2M approved by Legislature, in hope governor won’t veto it

Staff for special education and gifted students, homeschooling, paying off city loan high on list.

Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, speaks Wednesday, May 8, on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
After several deadly drownings, Alaska Legislature votes to require harbor safety ladders

Bill by Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, passes on final day of session.

Members of the Thunder Mountain High School culinary arts team prepare their three-course meal during the National ProStart Invitational in Baltimore on April 26-28. (Photo by Rebecca Giedosh-Ruge)
TMHS culinary arts team serves a meal of kings at national competition

Five students who won state competition bring Alaskan crab and salmon to “Top Chef”-style event.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, May 15, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, listens to discussion on the Senate floor on Wednesday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
A look at some of the bills that failed to pass the Alaska Legislature this year

Parts of a long-term plan to bring state revenue and expenses into line again failed to advance.

Most Read