By Melinda Munson

Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) provides care in 27 communities across Southeast Alaska, including two hospitals. Skagway could join their ranks, depending on the outcome of the special July 12 vote when residents decide if they will sell the municipality-owned Dahl Memorial Clinic to the non-profit consortium. 

SEARHC declined to participate in a question and answer format in The Skagway News, preferring that voters get their information from upcoming town halls and SEARHC’s web page.

The following quotes come from the June 21, 2021 Health, Education and Wellness meeting.

Did Borough Manager Brad Ryan help bring SEARHC to Haines when their city-run clinic sold?

No. The Haines clinic sold to SEARHC in 1998 for $1. Ryan did not move to Haines until 10 years later in 2008.

SEARHC is a Native-owned health consortium. Does this mean non-Natives could receive a lower level of care?

While Alaska Natives receive free healthcare, SEARHC also utilizes a sliding scale fee structure and bills private insurance and Medicaid.

“We provide health care in our communities to everybody in those communities,” said Gettis. “So you don’t create lines between tribal members or non-tribal members in our communities. So we’re committed to every member of our community – serving, providing health care.” 

If SEARHC assumed responsibility for Dahl Memorial Clinic, what would happen to the current staff?

“Everybody who was eligible to work for us would be offered a job,” Gettis said, listing background checks and qualifications as precursors. He cited an unnamed health center that was added to SEARHC’s network.

“The vast majority of those employees chose to come over to us,” he said, estimating about 85% of the original workforce stayed on. “And the vast majority have continued to work for us,” he added.

Would Skagway get its own full-time doctor If SEARHC assumed responsibility for Dahl Memorial Clinic?

(While this question wasn’t answered directly, the information given hinted at probably not, and focused on a consistent, visiting physician, with access to virtual appointments.)

“We don’t currently have a community that is exactly the size of our group [Skagway],” Gettis said.

“…What we’re very used to doing, and to provide some of the continuity that we really want, is that we assign a physician from our group,” Gettis continued.  “And so, it’s always the same doctor that comes. And because of our ability to be virtual here now, their connection to the community is enhanced, not just during the week that they’re here to see patients.” 

How would SEARHC be able to fill clinic vacancies better than current clinic administration?

Gettis said SEARHC has the advantage of a “dedicated recruitment team.” According to SEARHC’s job listings web page, there are seven open positions in Haines: dental assistant, environmental service worker, patient access representative (2), pharmacy technician, physical therapist, physician and registered nurse.

SEARHC will hold two town halls before the July 12 vote, one of them just a day prior to voting. See “Clinic’s fate put to vote” in this issue for more information.