Upgrades coming online for Alaska health care facilities

Around Alaska, new health care projects are at every stage of construction, from breaking ground to opening doors.


Health-related construction was projected to cost about $325 million in 2012, up seven percent compared to 2011, according to data from the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research. That puts the healthcare industry in the top five construction spenders this year. Among the largest projects statewide are a new facility in Fairbanks owned by the Tanana Chiefs Conference, a remodel of the maternity center at The Children’s Hospital at Providence, and a new hospital in Nome.

Maternity Center Clinical Manager Cathy Heckenlively said the new facilities at Providence will help the hospital keep pace with population growth and demand for services.

“We see the increase today,” she said.

That project is one of the largest, with a $150 million price tag and multiple construction phases. There’s already a need for more space and more services, Heckenlively said.

“I know it’s going to be busy,” she said.

The center serves statewide needs as the only hospital in the state with a level three Newborn Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, and specialists who work in antepartum care.

Antepartum care, which will be provided through the 14-bed Prenatal Unit, serves high-risk pregnancies. Women can spend 100 days or more waiting to give birth at Providence. The Prenatal Unit will free up space in the Mother-Baby Unit, where mothers go after giving birth. The 31-bed Mother-Baby Unit opened Oct. 6, the first part of the new center to open.

The Labor and Delivery unit, scheduled to open in 2014, is also undergoing construction. That unit is open during the work, with closures and construction shifting around operational areas, Heckenlively said.

Construction started in 2011. For now, staffing will remain about the same. Most of the physicians are independent, although Providence has some specialists on its staff. Heckenlively said new support roles might be needed, and as the number of patients increase, there might be a need for more nurses or other staff.

In Nome, the $90-million Norton Sound Regional Hospital is expected to create about 100 more jobs than the old hospital.

The hospital will move in phases this fall, with administration transitioning first, and other departments following, said Public Relations Specialist Monica Watchman.

The new facility, which will open its doors to patients in the new year, is about triple the size of the old building, Watchman said. It serves 15 Native villages in the Bering Sea region in addition to the Nome area.

The Norton Sound Health Corp. started working toward the hospital in the 1990s, starting with an Indian Health Services application for construction priority, Watchman said.


The work has been funded by a variety of sources, including private donors and federal funds.

Several projects received grants or loans from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, including the Sunshine Community Health Center’s new clinic in Willow, the Valley Native Primary Care Center in Wasilla, and the Norton Sound Regional Hospital in Nome.

The Nome hospital was one of several projects to receive funding assistance from the Denali Commission over the past decade. The commission’s health facilities program provides funds for planning, designing, constructing and equipping health facilities around the state.

Those projects usually require a local cost-share. The Rasmuson Foundation has contributed about $10 million in cost-sharing to Denali Commission projects since 2002, as well as other grants to healthcare projects.

“I think really our motivation has always been improving the quality of life and I think health care access is a huge part of that,” said Senior Program Officer Sammye Pokryfki.

Rasmuson grants go to a variety of projects.

“A lot of the grant making that we’ve done in the health arena is for construction of facilities, but there’s a significant amount of it that’s for equipment or renovations of existing facilities,” said Communications Manager Cassandra Stalzar.

So far, the foundation has awarded about $2.9 million to health projects for 2012, but that number could still grow. The recipients include the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center, for equipment, and the Kodiak Area Native Association’s Alutiiq Health Clinic, for dental clinic upgrades.

The foundation has been giving healthcare grants for more than just 10 years, though. The first project with a health tag in the foundation’s database was a grant to the Alaska Crippled Children’s Association Treatment Center in 1962, just seven years after the foundation became operational, said Stalzar.


Each new healthcare facility has involved drawing in a variety of stakeholders to come up with a design.

The new Chief Andrew Isaac Health Care Center in Fairbanks, owned by Tanana Chiefs Conference, is the first new building the Tanana Chiefs Conference, or TCC, was involved in designing from the start.

“We focused on creating a space of wellness and healing,” said architect Tracy Vanairsdale, from Bettisworth North, one of the firms working on the project.

The 95,000 square-foot building, which had a budget of $44 million, has significant cultural and environmental components. Vanairsdale said incorporating all the different aspects required regular meetings looking at medical planning, cultural design and sustainability.

“It was pretty methodical and organized and integrated,” Vanairsdale said.

The building has received initial approval for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, gold certification, although the final determination from the United States Green Building Council won’t come until the building is operational. Ventilation, energy efficiency and water systems are part of the criteria for that certification.

Vanairsdale said the building also includes symbolic or recognizable cultural components. Mature trees were preserved on the building site to ensure harmony with the land, and traditional art forms, like beading patterns, were incorporated throughout the building.

The facility was designed with room for future growth, Vanairsdale said. A second floor could be built above much of the first floor, and some site prep work was done beyond the building’s footprint. The building’s mechanical, vertical circulation and other systems can also handle increased use if more space is added.

In total, there’s room for about 15,000 to 20,000 square feet of additional space. Vanairsdale said the expansions are part of the building’s long-term plan.

“They do forsee (the growth),” Vanairsdale said.

Providence’s Maternity Center also used a new design process. Patients, physicians and nurses were involved in determining what made for the most comfortable setting and safe, efficient workflows, Heckenlively said. Like the Fairbanks facility, the project is on-track for LEED certification.

The design of the NICU represents a paradigm shift, Heckenlively said. In the past, babies in the NICU might be in a separate area from their moms to receive the highest level of care. The new unit will contain rooms that have a room for each baby and family, with all the technological needs as well as private family space.

“They do require a space where they can just kind of go and debrief and relax a little bit,” Heckenlively said.

The Mother-Baby Unit is also meant to be more efficient. Three 10-room neighborhoods each share a common nursery, and a room with all the supplies a nurse might need. Dividing the unit into neighborhoods means nurses don’t have to go as far to find what a patient needs, Heckenlively said.

The Providence project also honed in on smaller details than just the design of each unit. White boards in each room in the Mother-Baby Unit have spaces for the details new moms said they most wanted to know, and are printed in multiple languages so that families know what they’re looking at. The Prental Unit includes gathering spaces so that families who are there for the long haul have something to do beyond sitting in their rooms. Families even had input on the furniture selection and placement, Heckenlively said.

Other major projects popping up around the state include the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center, which move to a new building in September, work at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, a new clinic in Kaltag, and work at the medical center in Wrangell.


Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.