Skagway may contract with SEARHC to take over health clinic

The Skagway Borough Assembly has directed the borough manager to pursue negotiations for the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium to take over management of the community health clinic and lease the municipally owned building.

In the meantime, the Dahl Memorial Clinic, which costs the municipality about $1 million per year to operate, will get a temporary executive director at the price of about $150,000 for three months through a company that also sells training and restructuring services to health centers. The company has prepared a financial rehabilitation plan for the clinic, which some in the community see as an alternative to SEARHC management and a way to keep the clinic managed locally.

The assembly voted Aug. 5 to pursue negotiations for SEARHC to lease the clinic after a deal failed for the health care provider to purchase the clinic — it had offered less than the borough wanted for the property.

The clinic has been without a temporary medical director since late June, and without a permanent executive director since December 2021.

Skagway is one of the few communities in Southeast where SEARHC does not provide services.

Under a draft agreement with Skagway, SEARHC would “acquire ownership and assume responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the clinic,” with an anticipated purchase price of $1. The borough would lease the building to SEARHC for $1 per year, with a 25-year lease.

SEARHC would be required to keep all current clinic employees, “subject to SEARHC’s routine background check screening standards and procedures.” According to the draft agreement, SEARHC would eventually expand the clinic’s services to include dental and mental health.

Public comment went on for more than an hour at the Aug. 5 borough assembly meeting. Billi Clem said she was satisfied with the clinic as it is now. “I’m a frequent visitor of the Skagway medical clinic … and I have had very good service. I am not in favor of bringing SEARHC to Skagway because I like the service that I get now.”

But Kaylnn Howard testified that she didn’t have confidence in the clinic, 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 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.

Lisa Mandeville, like several others, said the issue deserved a vote of the public, although not required by municipal code.

Several residents expressed concern with the length of the proposed 25-year lease. Assemblymember Dustin Stone 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 … would require a fairly lengthy lease to allow them to recoup the capital that they put in,” he said.

A final agreement with SEARHC would require assembly approval.


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