Construction starts on Alaska Native Medical Center housing

Tribal, state, and private sector leaders Wednesday kicked off construction of housing at the Alaska Native Medical Center.

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They say it will improve services for Alaska Native and American Indian people who travel to Anchorage from across the state for health care.

A state Senator who helped get the project financed says it will also save the state millions of dollars a year for decades to come.

The new six-story patient housing facility, with 202 private rooms, will be located behind and linked by sky-bridge to the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, which serves some 150,000 patients a year.

More than half of those patients travel to Anchorage for health services. But many can be served as outpatients. They may need to be monitored or receive care for high-risk pregnancies, for instance, or for chemotherapy, or post-surgical follow-up.

Andy Teuber is board chair and president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. He says the new facility will cut down on the cost of putting up patients in hotels, and make it easier for patients to receive services:

“This is one of many barriers that we look forward to breaking down and improving access for our patients across the state to health care here at ANMC,” Teuber said.

Teuber says Congress approved a land transfer from the Indian Health Service, and the Consortium worked with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and with legislators on financing.

“At a number of occasions we found that the enthusiasm around the project was sufficient to carry it through,” Teuber said.

That enthusiasm is due in part to the fact the state of Alaska will see an estimated jump of almost $9 million in Medicaid reimbursements, annually. Medicaid patients who stay at a tribal facility allow the state to receive 100 percent of the federal match. If those patients are being seen at a non-tribal facility, the state receives only half the federal match.

That’s one reason Anchorage Republican and Senate President Kevin Meyer co-sponsored a bill in 2013 that authorized the state to issue bonds to loan ANTHC $35 million, a big chunk of the $41 million price tag for the housing facility.

“It was kind of a unique concept, and at first we had some hesitation as to how it would work and how much it would truly cost, but it’s going to pay itself back in a short time,” he said.

Meyer says knowing the Indian Health Service is a major source of funding for the Consortium reassured legislators, who, he says, gave a close look at the level of risk the state was taking on in funding the project.

“We did, because ultimately if the funding source doesn’t come through, it falls back on the state,” Meyer said. “The federal government for the most part is pretty trustworthy. It’s a good deal for the state and residents of Alaska. So it’s truly a win-win, and I’m happy to be part of it.”

The new housing facility is expected to be completed in the fall of 2016.

Joaqlin Estus is a reporter at KNBA in Anchorage.

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