SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium patient housing project in Sitka breaks ground

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2007

SITKA - A decade-old dream came closer to reality on Friday, Nov. 16, when the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium broke ground on a new $3.45 million patient housing facility across from the SEARHC Mount Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka.

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The 7,820-square-foot facility will have 18 rooms, including two that are fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The patient housing facility will serve Alaska Native and non-Native patients receiving health care services in Sitka, including care received at non-SEARHC facilities. The facility will be Medicaid-eligible and will offer affordable lodging rates for uninsured patients.

"This has been in the 'dream' stages for a long time," said Frank Sutton, SEARHC vice president of Hospital Services. "I remember sitting at my desk with one of my assistants sketching out what a patient housing facility on the Mount Edgecumbe Hospital campus might look like about 10 years ago."

SEARHC operates community health centers in several rural Southeast Alaska communities, and many of these patients are brought to Sitka's Mount Edgecumbe Hospital for advanced health care services not available in their villages. Many of these medical procedures require little or no hospitalization, so patients need a place to stay while they await their trip home or to give the patient healing time to become physically able to travel.

SEARHC has some patient housing on its Sitka campus (MTE Arms), but has to contract with the Sitka Hotel and Shee Atika Corp. (Totem Square Inn) for additional patient housing needs. Some SEARHC beneficiaries refuse or postpone travel for needed health services because of the lack of adequate or affordable housing in Sitka. The new facility also will help SEARHC be able to handle the growing elderly population in the region, which is expected to rise considerably over the next 20 years.

New SEARHC President/CEO Roald Helgesen said the new patient housing facility will provide safe, accessible housing for patients waiting for surgery, patients waiting for the start of a substance abuse treatment program, pregnant women women awaiting the birth of a child, and families of patients in critical care.

"As a first act, I'm very excited to turn a shovel for this project," said Helgesen, who also spoke about the partnerships that made this project a reality. Helgesen was joined on the shovel brigade by Sitka Tribe of Alaska Chairman Woody Widmark (who also represented the SEARHC Board of Directors), Sitka Mayor Marko Dapcevich, Rob Allen of the Rasmuson Foundation and Chad McGraw of McGraw's Custom Construction in Sitka, which received a $2.4 million contract to build the facility.

The total cost of the project is about $3.45 million, with funding coming from the Denali Commission ($1.7 million), the Rasmuson Foundation ($750,000), the Paul G. Allen Foundation ($275,000), Tlingít-Haida Regional Housing Authority ($80,000), the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development ($50,000), and SEARHC ($568,000).

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