SEARHC clinic scores high in re-accreditation

Posted: Monday, December 31, 2001

The Juneau clinic of SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium has been re-accredited with a score of 94 out of a possible 100 points.

"Everyone wants to score in the 90s - it's like getting an A," Administrator Brenda Sturm said.

SEARHC is a nonprofit Native health consortium of 18 federally recognized tribes. It is funded by the Indian Health Service; collections from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance carriers; and grants.

The clinic has about 6,000 active patients who make about 32,000 visits a year, Sturm said. It provides family practice, mental health, dental and health-promotion services.

The clinic is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, a national group made up of representatives of organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians.

The commission doesn't comment on specific accreditation reports, or make them public. Its Web site at www.jcaho.org provides a numerical rating for each of dozens of categories that are assessed, but the most recent SEARHC information won't be posted until mid-January, a spokesman said.

The SEARHC clinic's score at its previous accreditation, in 1998, was 93. On both occasions the clinic's laboratories scored 100. The commission's Web site says that 82 percent of outpatient clinics score between 90 and 100.

Being accredited helps the clinic qualify for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement and for higher payments by insurance companies, Sturm said. The commission sets standards of care and updates them monthly.

"They put it out as a gentle reminder, but you better do it," Sturm said.

The commission this time made a number of minor recommendations mostly regarding paperwork, she said.

It asked the clinic to put a statement on a hiring form that the medical director had verified that a doctor was fit to work. It asked the clinic to change the wording in policy and procedure manuals, and to change its maintenance records, Sturm said. And the commission asked the clinic to assess patients' pain more frequently and consistently.

Accreditation is a learning experience, according to Sturm.

"What we learn, No. 1, is different approaches on how to meet standards," she said. "Sometimes you work in your own bubble and don't see the whole picture."

The commission's surveyor who visited the clinic was impressed with its care of patients, Sturm said.

"It just gave me a good feeling to know we were taking care of folks the way we needed to," she said.

SEARHC also runs Mount Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka and clinics in Haines and Klawock. It is building a new, 25,000-square-foot clinic in Juneau that will double its exam rooms.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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