Money from tribal group will help Whittier reopen clinic

Posted: Thursday, August 08, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Whittier will reopen its medical clinic with the help of a tribal health organization.

The Eastern Aleutian Tribes received federal grant money to turn the town's clinic into a community health center.

Whittier has been without a physician since early July, when Dr. William Cooper resigned his position. Cooper, from Soldotna, had been making regular medical visits to the town. His departure forced the closure of the clinic and left residents relying on emergency medical services or traveling to Anchorage for care.

To meet the town's need, city leaders joined the Eastern Aleutian Tribes in its grant application to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Chris Devlin, executive director of Eastern Aleutian Tribes, said he learned this week that the grant was approved.

Details still need to be worked out, but Devlin expects the clinic to reopen in a few weeks.

''We hope to have things going by Sept. 1,'' he said.

As a community health center, Whittier's clinic will receive federal aid to care for underserved people, Devlin said. These types of centers cater to areas where access to primary health care is limited for economic, geographic or cultural reasons.

Whittier is on west side of Prince William Sound, 75 miles southeast of Anchorage. It is not part of the Aleutian chain and Devlin said he doesn't know how many Whittier residents are from the Aleutian villages. Matt Rowley, city manager for Whittier, said his city of 182 full-time residents has only a small Native population.

Nevertheless, Devlin said his nonprofit health organization has experience operating clinics.

''We have a track record of being able to help communities that are hurting with their health care system,'' Devlin said.

The organization operates clinics that serve all communities in the Aleutians East Borough. But it also runs a clinic in Adak, which is located on the western part of the chain and is not a traditional Native community. Adak's health care system needed help last year, and the Eastern Aleutian Tribes took control, Devlin said.

When Whittier's clinic closed and the community needed help this year, the tribal health organization applied for an annual grant that will set aside $300,000 of federal money to operate the facility. Devlin said the new clinic will be run by a community health aide and a mid-level practitioner, which is either a nurse practitioner or a physician's assistant.

Devlin said he believes it will cost more than $300,000 to run Whittier's clinic. Any remaining costs will be picked up by the city of Whittier, he said.

The federal aid takes the financial burden of running the clinic off Whittier's shoulders.

''This is the best thing that could happen here,'' Rowley said.

The clinic used to operate with a deficit of $120,000 to $150,000 a year. Whittier's annual general fund is only $900,000, he said.

Heike Dykstra, a paramedic who ran the clinic, said the grant gives the facility more financial security.

''The community won't have to be worrying every time the budget comes due whether the clinic will be here or not,'' Dykstra said.

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