Officials and members of the Seldovia Village Tribe, along with dignitaries from as far away as Washington, D.C., were in Homer for Wednesday's groundbreaking ceremony for the tribe's new medical clinic.
The 7,000-square-foot building, to be located in Homer on East End Road, is tentatively expected to open sometime after the new year, perhaps by the end of January 2005, according to Tom Keesecker, the tribe's project representative.
The clinic will serve tribal members, many of whom live on the Homer side of Kachemak Bay, and be open to anyone else. Its primary function will be serving tribal members and low-income Alaskans.
Don Kashevaroff, president of the Seldovia Village Tribe, said the clinic was a longtime dream. The effort resulting in Wednesday's groundbreaking actually began almost a decade ago.
"Health care costs are going higher and higher," he said. "With a clinic, we can control our costs. We can also do things like offer preventive services and provide better health care for our people that we couldn't when we were just contracting services out."
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, whose department provided a large portion of the funding, visited Homer for the ceremony, along with several others, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Following the ceremony, the entourage flew to Seldovia.
"There isn't anything better than people taking care of their health," Thompson said, adding that the clinic would do more than treat people. It also would educate.
"It's going to serve Natives and non-Natives alike. It's going to be a community clinic, a new kind of concept that we're bringing into Alaska. I think it's going to help Homer. People are going to look to you as an example," he said.
Thompson took the opportunity to make a spirited pitch against smoking.
"You work too hard to be here," he said. "(Smoking) takes 15 years off your life. You know, I don't know about you, but I sort of like living. I don't want to give up 15 years to anybody. I want to be around to see what's going to happen.
"I want to see who's going to screw up!" he added, drawing a round of laughter.
"I want to see people doing things," he continued. "I want to be around here to see this clinic flourish."
Thompson also noted the growing incidence of diabetes in America, especially among Native Americans. He blamed poor diet and lack of exercise, which also are contributing to obesity in America, he said.
"Hey, chunky's good, but slim is better," he said, adding that he was hardly one to point fingers.
Murkowski praised the efforts of the Seldovia Native Tribe in bringing the project along.
"Here in this community, what we are talking about is healthy families and healthy communities, and it's starting with clinics like this one," she said.
Bringing the project to this point required a collaboration of funding sources. Kashevaroff said grants had been received to help pay the cost of construction, as well as to help it function once its programs are up and running.
The Indian Health Service will provide money to serve Native Alaskans, and the Health Resources and Services Administration will be the source of funding that would serve everyone else, he said.
The Denali Commission is funding construction with a $1.34 million grant that is coming through the Health Resources and Services Administration.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has provided another $500,000, while the Rasmuson Foundation has kicked in $400,000. The Seldovia Native Tribe is required to match some of that funding, Keesecker said.
Other support is coming from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and the Southcentral Foundation, Kashevaroff said.
The final cost of the building still is being assessed, Keesecker said. Also still unknown is how many will work at the new clinic. The tribe is developing new programs that may mean additional staff.
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