Ketchikan Natives seek local hospital care

Posted: Friday, February 25, 2000

KETCHIKAN (AP) -- A Ketchikan Native organization wants members to receive hospital services without leaving their community, but the organization that operates a regional health hospital in Sitka says their withdrawal would cripple the health facility.

Ketchikan Indian Corp. offers clinic services and emergency treatment in Ketchikan. But Alaska Natives must go to Sitka or the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage for hospital stays.

KIC's more than 4,000 enrolled members make it the largest tribe in Alaska, said Stephanie Rainwater-Sande. Rainwater-Sande says KIC's patients would rather be treated at Ketchikan General Hospital. Doing so also would eliminate travel costs and save federal Indian health dollars, she said.

Southeast Alaska Regional Health Corp. is fighting the request. SEARHC President Ethel Lund says diverting nearly $2 million from Mount Edgecumbe Hospital would set a dangerous precedent and affect services available to 19 other tribes in the consortium

Ketchikan Indian Corp. contracted with the federal government's Indian Health Service in 1997 to provide clinic service to tribal members and other Natives in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, said corporation general manager Charles White. SEARHC formerly provided clinic services and continues provide hospital services.

Pregnant women can obtain prenatal care in Ketchikan, but those without insurance must be transported to Mount Edgecumbe four weeks before delivery, said Lance Colby, KIC health administrator. They also must find housing for their stay, he said, although SEARHC helps find low-cost housing for patients covered by Medicaid.

The Indian Health Service office in Anchorage declined to consider KIC's claim for the funding, said Chris Mandregan, director of the Alaska Area Indian Health Service. Mandregan said a congressional moratorium prevents tribes from withdrawing funding from regional hospitals.

KIC has filed an appeal with the IHS office in Washington, D.C. The IHS board is expected to make a decision March 6 or set a deadline for their decision.

White said KIC will take the matter to court if necessary.

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