If another organization doesn’t step forward, the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium will close the Front Street Clinic Oct. 1. Front Street serves Juneau’s homeless population. SEARHC has operated the clinic for 10 years.
Dan Neumeister, SEARHC’s chief operating officer, said that while the closure is unfortunate, it would save SEARHC about $300,000.
“To have that extra $300,000 to reallocate to our other rural clinics can make the difference between having someone on-call or not having someone on-call throughout our region,” Neumeister said. “It’s a big deal.”
SEARHC is a non-profit tribal health consortium contracted with the Indian Health Service to provide medical services to Southeast Native communities. Taking the Front Street Clinic off of their roster is necessary to ensure that SEARHC can continue its mission, Neumeister said.
“Some of the things we’ve done in the past because we could. Now we’re seeing a change in the external environment and so we need to take a look at how we do things,” Neumeister said. “The clinic has become such a huge strain and in some way, it’s really a community obligation. Now’s the time for another interested organization to step up and take care of (the clinic).”
Some of those changes include federal spending cuts and fewer reimbursements from private insurers, Medicaid and Medicare.
“We are looking at every one of our clinics, at every service we provide and asking ourselves what we really need to offer quality service to our clients,” Neumeister said.
Talks with representatives from the state, the city and the Juneau Homeless Coalition have been positive, Neumeister said. He said further meetings are scheduled to discuss the fate of the clinic.
“If the coalition, a company, a person, or a corporation says that they want to run it, we certainly have no problem turning the clinic over to them,” Neumeister said. “The medical equipment has been acquired for the homeless mission. If the clinic moves, we’re willing to make sure that the equipment gets there.”
Neumeister said the clinic has 4.5 full-time positions. He said he and a human resources representative met with the employees Tuesday to discuss employment options within SEARHC.
“We’re more than willing to help them find positions within the SEARHC family in Juneau or elsewhere,” Neumeister said. “If they decide it’s not what they want, we will offer them a severance package.”
Going into 2012, SEARHC was facing a $4 million budget shortfall. Earlier this year, the organization announced it would be closing the Bill Brady Healing Center, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Sitka. The closure was in anticipation of a $3.5 million reduction in spending. Neumeister took over at SEARHC in April, following the unexplained departure of previous COO Susan Labus. In July, the organization announced that it would be closing its own medevac service and was looking at outsourcing as a more cost-effective solution.
“We have to look at where it’s best to put our expenses and how to serve our Alaska Native people,” Neumeister said. “This helps us not only survive, but thrive in these remote areas where we’re providing services that our clients so badly need.”
• Contact reporter Jennifer Canfield at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.