Mt. Edgecumbe High School sits across from Sitka on Japonski Island. It is right next to the SEARHC hospital. (Photo courtesy of KCAW/ Emily Kwong)

Southeast Alaska’s tribal health organization is asking to use the state’s Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka for overflow coronavirus patients. So far, state health officials are noncommittal. 

Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium – or SEARHC – is eyeing the Mt. Edgecumbe boarding school in case its hospital in Sitka is overtaxed.

“That would be able to address mild COVID-19 disease, as well as isolation of community members, and for some of our staff to stay if they’re unable to return to their homes,” says SEARHC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elliot Bruhl on a Wednesday call with reporters.

Mt. Edgecumbe boarding school is currently closed. Its 400 dormitory beds, kitchen facilities and gymnasium space isn’t being used. But the community has staff to call on if the facility were reopened. And the school is conveniently right next to the hospital.

The Sitka boarding school could be a regional hub for villages in SEARHC’s network should the larger regional hospitals become overwhelmed. 

“Both in Seattle and anchorage we have the ability to move critically ill patients to those locations,” Bruhl says. “Still we are planning for the worst.”

SEARHC’s hospitals and clinics are preparing for local outbreaks of COVID-19, Bruhl said. Sitka has 13 ventilators on hand and could accommodate 40 beds. Wrangell has three ventilators with room for 30 beds.  

So will Mt. Edgecumbe be converted? A spokeswoman for the state Department of Education says they’re looking into it. Administrators at the state-run boarding school are being consulted.

Alaska’s state Emergency Operations Center confirmed it’s received a request to use Mt. Edgecumbe. It’s still considering the request.