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Delta, Fort Greely Clinics Challenged to Operate With COVID-caused Staff Shortages

Interior Alaska Medical Clinic

Health-care providers at all three clinics in the Delta Junction area are mostly back on the job today, after several were quarantined last month for testing positive for coronavirus – and a few were recovering from full-blown cases of COVID-19.

Seven people in the Delta Junction area tested positive for coronavirus last week, according to the local COVID-19 Task Force. That’s down from 27 over the previous week and way down from 51 the three clinics reported during a week in mid-November – when many of those testing positive were people who work at the clinics.

“I would say one-third of our employees got sick. They got it basically from the sick patients,” says Serge Domas, the Interior Alaska Medical Clinic’s business administrator.
Domas he said Friday it’s not surprising that so many staffers had tested positive for the virus, because until this week those numbers had been rising since October.
“Four to five people (testing) positive for covid every single day,” he said. “This is how it’s been for two months now. And it’s not been slowing down.”
Domas says all the staff are back on the job now – including himself, after he had to be hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19.
“Yeah, I did have pneumonia in my lungs with the covid,” he said, “and I wasn’t put on a ventilator, but I had to have blood transfusions and all sorts of stuff. Honestly, I thought ‘I’m not going to make it.’ ”
Domas says the clinic had to cut back on its hours for a few days last month while staff were away in quarantine or being treated. He says the clinic has now returned to its usual schedule – but it’s strictly enforcing precautions now, like no longer allowing walk-ins without appointments and carefully screening patients before they enter. That’s basically what the other clinic in town has had to do after its staff was hard-hit by the virus.
“We’ve had about half of our staff that had at one time or the other been having to go home because of exposure to covid,” says Dr. Ray Andreassen, owner of the Family Medical Center.
Andreassen says that hasn’t required the clinic to cut back on its hours. But it did help convince him to set up a drive-up testing facility that should help limit the clinics’s health-care providers from exposure to the virus.
“We have an area by the emergency entrance in the back,” he said, adding that it’s set up so that patients “pull up and park and we do the testing.”
The Fort Greely Medical Clinic closed on Nov. 30 for deep cleaning after at least one staffer there tested positive for COVID. The clinic was left short-handed when that person and much of the staff had to be quarantined. A spokesperson for Fort Wainwright’s Medical Department Activity says it sent three staffers to keep Greely’s clinic operating, along with one from Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Seattle.
Domas and Andreassen both said they’re encouraged that the number of local cases fell last week. But Domas says he thinks too many people in the area still don’t aren’t taking the virus seriously.
“It wasn’t fun, y’know?” he said. “People should not take that lightly. There’s definitely a threat (to) life.”

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.