Preparing for coronavirus, BBAHC changes protocols for hospital visits and village travel

Mar 19, 2020

Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation is putting extra measures into place to prepare for coronavirus, modifying and adapting their normal practices in communities around the region. 

The welcome sign outside of Kanakanak Hospital. Oct. 29, 2018.
Credit KDLG/Isabelle Ross

The Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation is restructuring its operations to prepare the region for coronavirus.

Health providers based at Kanakanak Hospital in Dillingham normally travel regularly to villages around the region to provide care to residents. But in an effort to prevent any spread of the virus to communities, BBAHC has postponed village travel for its staff indefinitely.

“The risk is, the physicians are on the frontline. And we could asymptomatically carry it to the villages, which we absolutely do not want to do," said Doctor Cathy Hyndman, the clinical director for BBAHC.

Hyndman encouraged postponing all non-essential traffic from Dillingham to the villages. That includes things like social gatherings, routine check-ups and non-essential surgeries. 

“To avoid infecting the dentists, who of course work right up in the faces of people with hoses and water and such that can spray stuff out on them, dental clinic is closed except for emergency care. Eye clinic is also closed except for emergency care,” she said. 

To that end, Kanakanak Hospital is changing its visitor protocols. To decrease the number of people in the waiting room at a given time, the hospital is requesting that people call in before they come to the facility. People coming to the hospital will be screened with a questionnaire. If they have respiratory symptoms, they will be asked to wear a mask.

Patients can enter only through the main door for outpatient visits, and through the ER door for emergency room visits. The waiting room’s seating area has been closed off, as has the dining area. The cafeteria is now open only to patients and staff. 

The United States is now considered a Level 2 country, meaning that if a person has traveled in the Lower 48, they should monitor themselves for symptoms like fever. Hyndman said that if a traveler has family members older than 60 — or anyone with health issues — they should consider postponing any visits until they have been home and symptom-free for 14 days. People who have just travelled home from Anchorage could also help protect their communities by social distancing.

“I know this is going to be difficult, because we are a community that truly loves to gather and support one another. And during this time we need to be more cognizant of other ways to support each other,” she said.

Currently, Medicaid will pay for travel only in cases of urgent or emergent sickness or injury. BBAHC is in regular talks with other regional health corporations, as well as the state, about how to prepare their facilities and providers for cases of COVID-19.

“Testing is available. We can take the swabs in Dillingham and send them to Anchorage. But testing is still limited due to the number of test kits that are available here, and the number of test kits that are available around the state.”

Hyndman said the most practical health measures still apply: practice social distancing and wash your hands.

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200