Dr. Michael Alter says during his last stretch where he worked eight straight days, he handled three overdoses, one of which was from a woman who was seven-and-a-half months pregnant.

"It's mentally frustrating to see young people dying or nearly dying," Alter said.

Alter works as an emergency medicine physician at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. He says the patients he helps deal with a variety of substance abuse and mental health issues.

"We’re just overrun with mental health issues, substance issues – both opiates and alcohol – as well as a garden variety of mental health disorders – suicidality," he said. "We're overrun almost everyday.”

Alter said the emergency department only has 21 beds and there's an increasing number of patients they see who need to get additional psychiatric help. 

"But because of the lack of capacity in the state of Alaska, we're stacking up patients in the emergency department," he said. "Sometimes for as long as five or six days."

Medical director Dr. Anne Zink said their hospital is in "desperate need of inpatient behavioral health beds."

"We used to be able to get patients to Alaska Psychiatric Institute in a short time frame," she said. "A day at the most. Two days, occasionally."

Zink and Alter say that's not the case anymore.

"Just recently, when I came into work, we were holding seven people to go to Alaska Psychiatric Institute," Alter said. "One of them, I believe, stayed for as long as six days before they were able to go."

A spokesperson for the state's Department of Health and Social Services said as of this Friday, there were 75 beds filled at API, with three more beds offered waiting for patients to arrive. API has a total of 80 beds. Zink says the need for more services is evident in what happens in the emergency department when the hospital is dealing with overcapacity and can't find a bed elsewhere.

"There's nothing more heartbreaking than telling a family, you can do nothing for their loved one -- that we're going to have to hold [them] for five days, with the lights on in the emergency department, trying to get a bed," she said. "This is running over and hurting other patients in the department as well. Patients who come in with a heart attack or car accident are having to be seen in the hallway or other places because all of our cardiac beds are being held by psychiatric patients."

Zink also says the people providing the care are struggling with workplace injuries due to patient behavior.

"I've personally received a black eye," she said. "We've had numerous nurses hurt and injured."

Stories like this are the reason why hospital officials have worked for years to explore applying for a Certificate of Need from the state for 36 inpatient behavioral health beds for adult psychiatric and substance abuse services. They will serve both voluntary admissions and involuntary commitments under Title 47 of Alaska Statutes.

Zink and Alter hope with additional services the emergency department can provide even stronger care for patients seeking help. 

"Basically, we'll have a facility right here," Alter said. "And we'll be able to take care of our own community."

This is part of an overall hospital expansion that will take place over the next five years, which includes a new medical office building on campus and finishing the hospital's third floor with additional beds.

Michael Carson with the Mat-Su Opioid Task Force also highlighted how significant this service would be if approved.

"For an addict, when that door opens up, you have to be able to help them through that threshold," he said.

There will be a second public meeting over the Certificate of Need request on Thursday, August 31, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Mat-Su College in Wasilla. People interested can contact, Alexandria Hicks, Certificate of Need Program Coordinator at the Department of Health and Social Services by mail at 3601 C Street, Suite 978, Anchorage, Alaska 99503 or via email: Alexandria Hicks@alaska.gov.