By Melinda Munson
The Skagway Borough Assembly voted Aug. 5 to allow Borough Manager Brad Ryan to pursue negotiations for a management contract for Dahl Memorial Clinic (DMC) with Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), with a separate agreement to lease the building.
The direction follows a June 21 assembly vote to cancel the July community vote, which would have advised the municipality whether or not SEARHC could purchase DMC. The cancellation occurred after SEARHC offered an amount far below Dahl’s appraised price.
In the meantime, DMC, which costs the municipality about $1 million per year to operate, will get a temporary executive director at the price of around $150,000 for three months through COORS Leadership Capital, a company which also sells training and restructuring to health centers. COORS, which is not affiliated with SEARHC, constructed a rehabilitation plan for Dahl, which some see as an alternate path to SEARHC, and a way to keep the clinic managed locally.
The clinic has been without a medical director since Brent Kunzler left in late June after being placed on administrative leave, and without a permanent executive director since Este Fielding resigned in December 2021.
If the SEARHC agreement is approved as currently written, SEARHC would “acquire ownership and assume responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the clinic” with an anticipated purchase price of $1. The clinic building could be leased for 25 years at $1 per year. SEARHC would be required to keep all current clinic employees, “subject to SEARHC’s routine background check screening standards and procedures.”
According to the discussion draft dated July 28, “SEARHC will commit to continuing all current services offered by the clinic,” with eventual expansion of specifically named services such as dental and mental health.
The special meeting, held at the same time as the memorial for Dennis Corrington and town hall for Senator Jesse Kiehl, hosted about 30 citizens with 30 watching on Facebook. It was not broadcast on KHNS due to technical difficulties. A representative from SEARHC was present via Zoom.
Public comment went on for more than an hour. Billi Clem stated she was satisfied with the clinic in its current form.
“I’m a frequent visitor of the Skagway medical clinic … and I have had very good service at the Dahl Memorial clinic. And I am not in favor of bringing SEARHC to Skagway because I like the service that I get now. And I do not believe that bringing this clinic into Skagway is going to get us any more service than we already have,” she said.
Parent Kaylnn Howard testified that she didn’t have confidence in DMC, and neither did her pediatrician in Juneau. When Howard’s infant son developed a fever several days ago, Howard contacted her Juneau provider.
“They advised me not to go there [DMC] unless absolutely necessary. I was willing to hop on a plane just to get my kid care if his fever didn’t break,” she said.
Jan Wrentmore was concerned about the relationship between the clinic and the municipality. “That’s one thing that strikes me about the management of the clinic currently, is that it exposes the municipality to liability,” she said.
Lisa Mandeville, like several others, felt an issue this big deserved a vote, although not required by municipal code.
“No thank you to negotiations until a public vote occurs” Mandeville said, also suggesting the municipality acquire a healthcare attorney.
Several residents expressed concern with the length of the proposed 25-year lease.
Dustin Stone, assembly member, said he too was taken aback by the long lease until he did more research.
“The amount of capital that an organization like SEARHC … would have to put into the clinic, over the years that it’s in there, would require a fairly lengthy lease to allow them to recoup the capital that they put in,” he said.
Assemblymember Jay Burnham was the lone no vote.
“The last proposal, I voted no, because it was a low amount offered, $3 million, and the municipality was losing oversight at the clinic. It seems now that we’re being offered no money, will retain current and future liabilities related to PERS, be required to keep the … building maintenance, and lose oversight of the clinic. It almost seems like it’s worse than the first proposal … Let’s give the COORS interim manager a chance to work,” he said.
Assemblymember Deb Potter sits on the clinic board and described how after hearing the COORS proposal for an 18 to 24 month process to revamp the clinic, she wasn’t convinced. (Visit skagway.org),
“There are so many things that I can’t talk about, that the assembly members can’t talk about, that the board of clinic directors can’t talk about because they happened in an executive session. I think what I can say is, if we could talk about those things, I think it would change a lot of people’s minds about how we move forward. It is an emergency situation. And I see this [management contract] as a really nice compromise that keeps us in control. And that’s why I’m in favor of it,” she said.
Assemblymember Sam Bass also voted for the measure.
“…allowing the manager to go into negotiations with SEARHC is a good thing for us,” he said. “Because that allows us to keep our options open to see what’s available out there just very much like the RFP process would do. This also allows us to see what are they really going to offer … what I like about this idea, this lease idea, is that we still maintain some contractual controls in the lease to manage what type of service we’re going to provide, or we’re going to receive here in Skagway. I think we can build in metrics into the lease that say if you’re not providing a certain level of service, if you’re not meeting these certain requirements, then the lease can be terminated.”
A final agreement with SEARHC must be voted on by the assembly. Interested parties can share their views with the assembly by emailing letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Skagway News welcomes opinion pieces or letters to the editor per our guidelines on page 2.