By Melinda Munson
A special election July 12 will determine if Dahl Memorial Clinic (DMC) continues to be owned by the municipality and governed by a board of directors or turned over to Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC).
DMC has struggled to maintain staff, with many who quit citing a “toxic” work environment. The clinic has been without a permanent executive director since December. Many of the medical providers are locums, hired short term for higher than normal wages. The board has been inundated with complaints from the community and has held several executive sessions regarding staff actions which could not be shared with the public.
The assembly voted in March to replace two clinic board members with two assembly members, reasoning that the clinic was the community’s biggest complaint but the legislative body had little involvement.
Skagway currently receives approximately $1.3 million per year in HERSA funding. If SEARHC were to acquire the clinic, the HERSA funding would no longer be designated just for Skagway.
Borough Manager Brad Ryan said it’s his understanding that SEARHC’s “intent is to have the HERSA to operate” and it would become a “single pot of money throughout Southeast Alaska.”
Initially, the municipality fielded the idea of leasing the clinic to SEARHC. In the end, the proposal entails selling the clinic property. Ryan said that SEARHC wanted to eventually own the property.
The ballot question will read: “Shall the Municipality of Skagway sell the Dahl Memorial Clinic real property, improvements, personal property and financial assets to SEARHC for an amount no less than market value established by a qualified commercial appraiser? And shall Ordinance No. 22-03 authorizing this negotiated sale be approved?
Assemblymember Sam Bass tried to amend the resolution so that voting would be held with the general election in November.
“I think it’s something to consider that we’re going to be pushing a lot of information and a lot of big decisions on to the community in about 45 days,” he said. His motion was voted down, with only himself and Assemblymember Jay Burnham voting for the amendment.
“…We have been having this conversation for years now,” said Assemblymember Dustin Stone. “I remember, I think, still being in lockdown and having this conversation at clinic board meetings … I think a lot of the town is pretty prepared to make a decision on this and I think that there is a sense of urgency with this. We need to know what direction this is headed so that we know how to continue trying to fix our clinic.” He noted that DMC was having issues hiring with the future of the clinic being so uncertain.
Assemblymember Reba Hylton said that SEARHC plans to be in town twice before the vote to answer questions. The dates have yet to be finalized, though one town hall will be in June and one will be in July.
Interested parties can visit http://searhc.org/skagway. Questions can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 907-983-3168.
SEARHC Business Development Officer Heidi Aylsworth said interacting with the website before the town hall will “make those [meetings] as meaningful as we can.”
The Skagway News requested that SEARHC answer some frequently asked questions in their next edition. Aylsworth declined, stating that SEARHC prefers voters get their information from the upcoming town halls and the SEARHC landing page.