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5/21/15 - Construction of Native patient housing likely to bring millions in state savings

Joaqlin Estus

 Housing to increase access to health services for Alaska Natives

Tribal, federal, state, and private sector leaders Wednesday {may 20, 2015] kicked off construction of housing at the Alaska Native Medical Center saying it will improve services for Alaska Native and American Indian people who travel to Anchorage from across the state for health care. A state Senator who helped get the project financed says it will also save the state millions of dollars a year for years to come. 

The new six-story patient housing facility, with 202 private rooms, will be located behind and linked by sky-bridge to the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, which serves some 150-thousand patients a year. More than half of those patients travel to Anchorage for health services. But many can be served as outpatients. They may need to be monitored or receive care for high-risk pregnancies, for instance, or for chemotherapy, or post-surgical follow-up.

Andy Teuber is board chair and president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. He says the new facility will cut down on the cost of putting up patients in hotels, and make it easier for patients to receive services.

“This is one of many barriers that we look forward to breaking down, and improving access for our patients across the state to health care here at ANMC,” said Teuber.

Teuber says Congress approved a land transfer from the Indian Health Service, and the Consortium worked with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and with legislators on financing.

“At a number of occasions we found that the enthusiasm around the project was sufficient to carry it through,” said Teuber.

That enthusiasm is due in part to the fact the state of Alaska will see an estimated jump of almost $9 million in Medicaid reimbursements annually. Medicaid patients who stay at a tribal facility allow the state to receive 100% of the federal match. If those patients were being seen at a non-tribal facility, the state would receive only half the federal match.

That’s one reason Anchorage Republican and Sen. President Kevin Meyer co-sponsored a bill in 2013 that authorized the state to issue bonds to loan ANTHC $35 million, a big chunk of the $41 million price tag for the housing facility.

“It was kind of a unique concept, and at first we had some hesitation as to how it would work and what it would truly cost,” said Meyer. “But it's going to pay itself back in a short period of time. It’s really a good deal for the state and certainly a good deal for citizens of Alaska. So it’s truly a win-win, and I’m happy to be part of it.”

Meyer says knowing the Indian Health Service is a major source of funding for the Consortium reassured legislators, who, he says,  gave a close look at the level of risk the state was taking on in funding the project.

“We did. Because ultimately if the funding source doesn't come through, then it falls back on the state,” said Meyer. “But the federal government for the most part's pretty trustworthy.”

The new housing facility is expected to be completed in the fall of 2016.


Governor’s assistant says flexible fish and game management is needed to adapt to climate change

By Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska

Alaska communities could better adjust to climate change if hunting and fishing rules become more flexible. That’s according to Craig Fleener, the governor’s special assistant on Arctic policy. He says northern Native peoples were better able to adapt before western-style government took over.

“A thousand years ago, if the caribou didn’t come, you killed a moose,” said Fleener. “If the caribou that should have come to your community three weeks ago, two weeks ago, one week ago, today, weren’t there, well, you harvested them next week.”

Fleener made his comments to the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, which is holding its annual convention in Juneau this week. He says more regulations defining seasons and bag limits need to be made adaptable.

“We don’t do it enough. It’s very tough, especially with the rigid management structures that we have. But I think that’s something we really have to focus on," said Fleener. "And I think at some point in time, we all have to come together and talk about how we’re going to continue to adapt to the changes that are around us.

Fleener is Gwich’inAthabascan from Fort Yukon. He’s a former deputy commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game. He also was Gov. Bill Walker’s running mate before Walker’s independent campaign merged with Democrat Byron Mallott’s.


State officials warn of high fire danger

Fire officials are urging extreme caution with ANY activity that could spark wildfire. State Forestry officials say so far this year, 26 fires burning 3,371 acres have been reported throughout the state – including two started by lawnmowers and one by an ATV. All but one were started by people. A dry spring, and continuing hot, dry weather have created extreme fire danger levels statewide, and particularly in Interior Alaska.