By Melinda Munson

The Skagway Borough Assembly made three major decisions regarding SEARHC and its possible acquisition of Dahl Memorial Clinic at the Aug. 5 meeting. 

• The assembly approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with SEARHC, designed to get more information about what exactly the private, non-profit health consortium could provide to Skagway should it take over the ailing Dahl Memorial Clinic (DMC). 

  The legislative body also approved a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with SEARHC, which according to Borough Manager Brad Ryan, keeps negotiations with the borough confidential until SEARHC’s proposal is finalized. 

• Finally, the assembly voted to table Resolution 21-22R, a ballot question which would ask the community if they support SEARHC taking over the municipality-owned clinic. The proposed ballot measure will be discussed again at the August 19 assembly meeting.

“It’s no secret that our clinic is currently in a crisis … We have been here before…” said Assemblymember Reba Hylton, chair of the Health, Education and Welfare Committee (HEW). 

DMC, like most of the country, faces a healthcare provider shortage, but also struggles to retain its staff. The clinic has shed 75% of its workers since the start of the year. 

According to Ryan, the MOU does not bind the municipality to selling or leasing the clinic building to SEARHC, or accepting services.

“I do not have a problem with this. I see it as a very basic first step of starting a dialogue and moving forward,” said Assemblymember Deb Potter.

Assemblymembers Sam Bass and Jay Burnham voted against the measure. Cory Thole, president of the Dahl Memorial Clinic Board of Directors, made an official request for a work session with HEW or the assembly regarding the MOU, which was later granted, after the MOU passed. 

When Assemblymember Hanson listed off questions he wanted answered in a work session such as cost of services, Ryan acknowledged, “We won’t get those answers by next week.”

Another disputed topic, the NDA with SEARHC, passed with a vote of four to two, with Bass and Burnham in the minority. Bass cited the clinic board’s concern over the NDA for his no vote.

“Once again, I think this is not any kind of binding contract, it’s just a step in gathering more information,” said Potter.

According to Ryan, legal representatives for the municipality reviewed the NDA “multiple times.”

The assembly voted five to one to address Resolution 21-22R at the next meeting. Its passage on Aug. 19 would be necessary for the measure to appear on the Oct. 5 ballot. None of the assembly members seemed keen to hold a special vote, which historically, are not well attended.

The proposed yes or no ballot questions reads:  “Do you support the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) taking over the responsibility of providing healthcare for the community of Skagway from the Municipality of Skagway and the Dahl Memorial Clinic?

Burnham, the no vote, made it clear he is against the legislation.

“This is a huge issue and there’s an Oct. 5th every year. I think we need more information and this is rushed…” he said.

Bass said he wanted to give the clinic more time to address the issues.

“I understand that the clinic may be in crisis at this time but when you’re in a crisis, that’s not the time to make life changing decisions…” he said.

“It does seem a little rushed,” Hylton said.  “I will totally admit that …  but time is of the essence … I feel like if we move forward with an MOU here at this table, by the time the vote comes around on Oct 5th the public will be informed…”

“I really feel there is a large majority of our community that is ready for something like this to happen. So on their behalf, I am trying to get this on the ballot for them,” she said.

Assemblymember Dustin Stone voted for the MOU and NDA to get more information and said he hasn’t yet made up his mind.

 “I’m still being educated just like everybody in the community is. I still don’t know if SEARHC is or is not the correct answer to the problem we are currently having. What I do know is we are failing our community right now as far as our health care that we are offering. And we owe it to the community to be having these discussions right now,” he said.