Native hospital hampered by transportation trouble

Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2000

SITKA (AP) -- A regional Native hospital in Sitka says one of its biggest obstacles in treating patients is limited airline and ferry service that makes it difficult to reach the facility.

Ken Brewer, president of the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, said last week that solving the transportation trouble is his top priority.

''The limited transportation ... has been a concern of SEARHC for five years,'' he said. ''We're not doing well in moving our staff and our patients around.''

Brewer, a Blackfoot Indian from Montana, became SEARHC president last month, succeeding Ethel Lund after 25 years in the position. He had been the hospital's executive vice president.

He said patients from villages such as Kake, Hoonah, Tenakee Springs and Angoon are forced to first travel through Ketchikan or Juneau to get to Sitka.

''If you have a sick elder and they have to sit in the Juneau airport for five hours, that's completely unacceptable.'' he said.

Should the travel problems not be solved, Brewer said SEARHC would have to consider other ways to deliver health care to distant patients. He would not say what those options might be.

SEARHC had tried to solve the problem by purchasing an air-taxi service, but he said ''that did not work out as well as we'd hoped. I think we would be gun-shy about doing that again.''

SEARHC is also facing a funding challenge from the Ketchikan Indian Corp., which wants to contract with Ketchikan General Hospital for health services now provided by SEARHC.

That could divert $1.85 million, or 13 percent, of what SEARHC receives annually from the federal government.

''Nineteen of 20 federally recognized Southeast tribes are controlling their own destiny already by directing SEARHC to provide the best health care possible,'' Brewer said. ''KIC wants to do this independently, and that's admirable and it's good, but it's in conflict with the traditional model of Native health care.''

About 70 percent of SEARHC's 700 employees are located in Sitka, with the remainder in Juneau, Haines and Klawock.

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