By Melinda Munson
The Aug. 26 Dahl Memorial Clinic Board of Directors meeting went for three hours before being adjourned and continued to Sept. 1. During the two hours of citizens present testimony, residents related vastly different patient experiences from learning to walk again to difficulty accessing birth control.
Mayor Andrew Cremata addressed the board first, stating he was “neutral” when it came to the issue of SEARHC taking control of the struggling clinic.
“You have the assembly’s support, and you have my support as mayor. I want to make that clear, because I think there is confusion that the assembly has some motive to step in here to take away your responsibilities as a board — and this does fall squarely on you guys to deal with these issues. And I personally have no intention of putting my nose into this situation or trying to tell you how it should be handled,” he said.
“We are here to help” and “our resources are available,” he added.
Jan Wrentmore echoed the mayor’s sentiments.
“According to the municipal code, the governing body of the Dahl Memorial Clinic (DMC) shall be known as the DMC Board of Directors. I think it’s important for the public to know that this is the board to bring their concerns to. It’s not the job of the assembly to fix this. It’s not the mayor’s job, it’s not the city manager’s job,” she said.
Wrentmore said she is pleased with her provider and called it a “personal loss” when the provider tendered notice.
Board president Cory Thole instructed participants to not name providers if the comments were critical, to protect privacy and reputations. Providers were allowed to be named if the remarks were positive.
“You can praise but you cannot speak ill,” he said. The Skagway News has opted to leave all providers unnamed in this article, regardless of the nature of the remarks.
Billi Clem read a statement on behalf of her sister, Kelly Ewald. Clem said that In 2015, Ewald was in a debilitating car accident but “her pain was mainly under control” in 2017 when she moved to Skagway. Her medical condition spiraled upon switching to DMC.
“…The clinician here informed her he would not be able to respect the plan in place.” The new plan involved “changing almost every med that she was on,” Clem said.
“It didn’t take long for the rebound pain and the withdrawal to set in,” and Ewald was “told to take Tylenol” Clem said.
Eventually, Ewald was able to see a different DMC provider. “She held my hand and told me that while she couldn’t understand my pain, she did understand pain,” Clem read.
“Now, I’m very happy to say that Kelly is walking unassisted,” Clem said tearfully. “She doesn’t have to use a cane, she doesn’t have to use a walker, and (the provider) is a big part of that.”
Cooper Hays, a new addition to Skagway, utilized the clinic when her husband was injured at work and she suffered from kidney stones.
“Both of us received excellent care from the Dahl medical providers. We are sad and frustrated to see that most of those specific providers have resigned,” she said.
“We’ve also had struggles with the clinic. Some of them have shocked us,” Hays continued.
Hays and her husband moved to Skagway after losing their jobs in the pandemic and being displaced twice by natural disasters.
“I lost my entire livelihood and life as I knew it, as well as dear friends and heroes, to the COVID-19 virus. These factors and more, severely impacted my mental health. And I’m acutely aware, I’m not alone in this struggle with anxiety and depression. I continue to struggle to get the support that I need locally,” Hays said.
Hays turned to telehealth for a provider that could both prescribe medication and provide counseling. (DMC has a licensed clinical social worker who offers counseling, but medications must be prescribed through a separate provider.)
“Telehealth is really hard when it comes to trauma therapy and building rapport with one’s provider,” she said.
KayLynn Howard disagreed with not being allowed to name providers during testimony.
“When we had issues with (former police chief) Ray Leggett, everyone spoke his name,” she said.
At the meeting, it was determined that interested parties could call or email the clinic to get copies of the correspondence packet. Howard suggested that correspondence to the clinic board be posted on the municipality website, next to the agenda.
“I’ve had multiple traumatic experiences at the clinic, receiving care over the past couple years,” Howard testified.
She described an incident in September 2018 when she went to the clinic for an IUD.
“I was treated with great disrespect,” she said, stating that the provider wanted her to have permission from her partner. “They (the provider) went ahead with the procedure, telling me the whole time that they disagreed.”
Howard said when the IUD caused problems four months later and she wanted the device removed, the provider “downplayed my pain” and again asked if she had permission from her partner. Howard said the provider made an offhand comment on the way out the door that if she didn’t heal correctly, it could be harder to conceive later on.
Howard never voiced her concern to the clinic regarding her IUD experience, but said “it bothered her ever since.”
In January 2020, Howard said a different provider mistreated a UTI that turned into a kidney infection. This time, Howard wrote a complaint letter to the DMC executive director and asked that it be passed on to the clinic board. Howard said the letter was not forwarded and she felt “pressure and pushback.” Howard said she was never directed to the Patient Family Grievance Policy (PFGP).
According to the PFGP, complaints should be made to the executive director who will investigate the issue and get back to the patient within 14 days. If the patient is not satisfied with the outcome, the executive director then refers the matter to the board of directors. See the PFGP at this link:
Thole could not be reached to explain what happens when the complaint is against the executive director. Clinic board members are listed on DMC’s webpage but no contact information is provided.
“The women of this town deserve better. The children of this town deserve better, and the men of this town deserve better,” Howard said.
DMC cannot publicly respond to individual patient medical complaints due to privacy laws.
Mayoral Candidate Christy Murphy spoke in support of the clinic, wearing a “Say Her Name” mask. Some speculated the mask was a jab at a clinic employee while others believe it was a reference to Ashli Babbitt who died while taking part in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Murphy said it was neither.
“There is no underhanded message,” she said. Murphy explained she got the mask from her daughter, who received the face covering from her DDF coach when they discussed Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed by police.
Anthony Monteiro, possibly Skagway’s newest resident, had some concerns while listening to the clinic meeting.
“I come to this community with a basket load of mental health, physical health, emotional dysregulation issues,” he said.
After hearing of the clinic’s issues, Monteiro said “…I don’t want to go to the clinic at all.”
“Winter is coming. Winter is coming. That is a very bad time for mental health,” he added.
The clinic board will meet again Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. See the link below for an update provided by the DMC Board of Directors.