Atka Searches for Funds to Replace Aging Health Clinic

Photo by Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB - Unalaska
Photo by Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Atka is home to just 71 people. But that’s about to change. The city’s processing plant wants to quadruple its workforce — and with that, the community is ramping up a campaign to replace its dilapidated clinic.

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Photo by Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB - Unalaska
Photo by Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

When patients step over the threshold into Atka’s health clinic, they’re taking a bit of a risk.

Millie Prokopeuff: “Because our floor is rotting right now. We had to put a board over it to keep it safe because it was so soft, so that we didn’t lose any patients or anybody coming in.”

That’s Millie Prokopeuff. She’s the village’s wellness advocate, and the clinic’s only permanent employee.

The 33-year-old building houses the clinic on the first floor, and Atka’s city hall on the second floor.

Prokopeuff: “And it’s so old, and the nails are starting to pull out themselves just from the wind and the building swaying back and forth.”

In addition to the structural decay, Prokopeuff says it’s also becoming clear that the clinic isn’t big enough to serve the community anymore.

Prokopeuff: “We have no space. Like if we ever had an emergency of six or more, there would be no – it would be really hard. Because there’s no rooms, no beddings, nothing.”

Atka didn’t used to have a reason to plan for an emergency like that – one that would send six people to the clinic in a single day. But it’s not so far-fetched.

Photo by Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB - Unalaska
Photo by Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

At a ceremony last week, celebrating the completion of some big infrastructure projects in Atka, representatives from the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Community Development Association, or APICDA, gave more details on a plan to triple production capacity at their fish plant.

Atka Pride Seafoods only employs about 15 processors now. But APICDA’s chief operating officer John Sevier told villagers that that’s about to change.

Sevier: “Our plans over the next few years is to put a 65 person bunkhouse here. That will probably be within the next year.”

In one fell swoop, Atka’s population will nearly double —  from 71 villagers, to about 140 residents and workers. That’s added incentive to get a new medical facility built, and fast.

City administrator Julie Dirks says now that the village finished its 17-year-long project to build a hydroelectric power plant, she’s zeroing in on the clinic.

The Aleutian Pribilof Island Association is getting involved, and they’re lobbying Congress for funding on Atka’s behalf. But with the federal budget being stretched so thin already, Dirks says she isn’t holding her breath.

Dirks: “[I’m] not gonna sit and wait for them to do it. I’ll still be doing my bit.”

Her bit is lobbying the state. Atka requested $500,000 in capital funding from the state during this legislative session to finish off the design plans and lay the groundwork for even more fundraising. That request was denied – and Dirks says it wasn’t the first time.

Dirks: “I put it in there every year. It’s our number one priority in this village here.”

Dirks says the design is 95 percent complete, and it’s pretty straightforward. It gives the clinic more space to examine patients, a dedicated morgue, and moves the city hall entrance away from the clinic’s front door.

The estimated price tag is more than $3 million, and rising. That’s more than Atka’s annual budget. And while Atkans are used to pursuing expensive projects on a long timeline, with the clinic floor about to give way, they may not be able to wait.

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