Public Health Nurse Finds Busy Job in Sitka

Sentinel Staff Writer

Sitka’s new Public Health Nurse, Denise Ewing, says the community has done well in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, but continued diligence is needed.

So far, no cases have been reported in Sitka.

The mitigation efforts that Sitkans have been making are still vitally important, she stressed. “It’s about flattening the curve – I know people are tired of it – it’s not just an old people problem, it’s everything... We are just one gathering away from overwhelming the system.”

Taking the COVID mandates and recommendations to heart, as Sitkans are doing, will pay off in the end, said Ewing, who has been the Sitka public health nurse since last September.

“I see Sitka taking this very seriously,” she said. “I see people social distancing, I see people crossing the street (to avoid others) ... It’s what’s kept Sitka with no new positives yet.” 

Sitka’s new Public Health Nurse, Denise Ewing, fixes the flag in front of the Public Health Services building recently. Ewing says the community has done well in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, but continued diligence is needed to slow and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Sentinel Photo)

Before coming to Sitka, Ewing was a community health and well-being nurse at St. Alphonsus Medical Center in Boise, Idaho. As a state Public Health Nurse Level III her responsibilities cover Sitka, Port Alexander, Point Baker and Port Protection. The Sitka Public Health Office is at 210 Moller Drive, next to the old hospital building.

At present her duties involve “a lot of community tracing” and working with community partners on the COVID emergency, she said. She also works in infectious disease control of all types, (TB, STDs), family planning and birth control for people age 29 and younger, health education in the schools, immunizations for those 18 and younger, and well-child checks for newborns. 

But most of her work these days is on the coronavirus response. She works not just with community partners, such as the city and SEARHC, but with state and federal officials.

“The Centers for Disease Control, Epidemiology and the state Southeast region public health nurse and regional directors,” she said. “We do a lot under Dr. Amy Zink (Alaska chief medical officer), the governor and the Division of Homeland Security.”

On the local level, she is attending regular meetings with other state, regional and local health officials and city emergency responders, related to COVID.

It’s been busy.

“And it changes every day,” Ewing said. “Every day it’s new and evolving and changing. We have an update every day from the state, an update from the region, from the public health nurse. There are health alerts, new mandates and new information by the CDC, the governor, Dr. Zink. Some days you wake up and you’re very positive, and you feel you have a hold on things, and ready for the day, and no matter what it brings, you started the day off well – we’re in it together and we’re going to beat this thing. Other days, it’s cold, it’s rainy, you’re isolated and there’s a feeling you’re alone in this.”

Thankfully, she said, she’s feeling connected, and well-supported in her job.

Like others in the public health system in the state, Ewing is charged with helping trace the infection path of the virus, which includes calling those who tested positive for COVID-19, and those who have been in contact with a confirmed case. (See related story.)

“Some days, you feel ‘this we can do together,’ and other days my heart’s broken for our people and our nation,” Ewing said.

She noted that Sitka has a limited amount of resources for treating active cases – 13 respirators and “not a huge amount” of personal protection equipment.

“So we have to be cautious,” Ewing said. “If several people were hospitalized, this would put Sitka in a position where it would be hard to recover. As long as people are following the rules, we have a fighting chance.”

Ewing was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and after graduation from high school in 1987 she headed to college, thinking she would work as a criminal justice attorney. 

“I found it cold, and went into nursing instead,” she said, and ended up following in the footsteps of her mom and grandma, who also were nurses. 

“When they told me I could do anything with nursing I believed them and took hold of that,” Ewing said. She earned her degree from the Portland, Oregon, satellite campus of Walla Walla University School of Nursing in 2000, and since then has worked in the fields of “med surg,” urgent care, community nursing (working with those who are homeless or addicted to drugs), public health nursing, and as a school nurse. 

She was a community outreach nurse in Tonga, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Fiji. She has also worked in Idaho, Oregon and Colorado. 

Ewing has two sons, Aaron, 23, an engineer in Boise, and Nate, 20, who is a first responder and security worker for the Unisea fish processing company in Dutch Harbor.

Ewing loves the outdoors, including beachcombing, fishing, hiking and boating, and enjoys painting.

This is her first public health nursing job, but she compares it to similar work in the community nursing field.

“Right now my track is Sitka, Alaska,” she said.





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At a Glance

(updated 1-31-2023)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 12:15 pm Tuesday, January 31.

New cases as of Tuesday: 792

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 291,060

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,436

Case Rate per 100,000 – 108.66

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "Low.'' Case statistics are as of Tuesday.

Case Rate/100,000 – 70.4

Cases in last 7 days – 6

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,264

Deceased (cumulative) – 10

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.






February 2003

By GIL TRUITT: It seems like only yesterday that I was aboard the Alaska Coastal Airlines Grumman Goose, taking off from Wrangell, headed for my hometown, Sitka, in February 1947. I was a student at Wrangell Institute at the time but that was quickly forgotten when the “Goose” pulled up on the Japonski Island ramp. The big student movement to Sitka from Wrangell had begun. The creation of Mt. Edgecumbe High School was under way.



February 1973

 This year’s theme for the Sitka High School girls third quarter challenge is “Beat the Pudgies.” ... Becoming a member guarantees taking off or readjusting inches, taking off excess pounds, developing muscle tone and losing unnecessary flab.