More than a hundred people turned out last Thursday for a ribbon-cutting at a community health center in Sutton, a town on the Glenn Highway 60 miles northeast of Anchorage. The center will serve residents from Palmer to Eureka. And although the Indian Health Service contributed funding, and the Chickaloon Native Village Council manages the center, it will be open to Natives and non-Natives alike.
The new facility is named the “Aht-nah Hwĭ-tănnă Nigh-dĭnny-ah den,” or “Ahtna Chickaloon People Gathering Place.” Chickaloon traditional chief and chair of the tribal council Gary Harrison said the center is the result of unity, determination, and many years of effort. He said the idea was launched by elders, including some, such as Katie Wade, who didn’t live to see their dream of a local health facility realized.
“I want to especially remember my aunt Katie,” said Harrison. “She was the inspiration a long time ago on this and I also want to recognize my aunt Helen, and her two daughters who are here to see this today.”
Throughout the presentations, speakers mentioned the help and guidance of aunts, uncles, grandparents, brothers, cousins, parents, and sisters. President and CEO of Cook Inlet Tribal Council Gloria O’Neill said the building reflects those strong ties.
“When I think about what this represents, this healing place, in this beautiful location, it’s truly the embodiment of who we are as a tribal people,” said O’Neill, “that we need one another to not only survive but to thrive, that we’re interdependent, and that we truly are more than just friends, we’re family.”
Lisa Wade is a Chickaloon Village Traditional Council member, and the tribe’s director of health, education and social services. She said the building has open spaces indoors and out for community gatherings. It also includes several features that local residents asked for, such as a gym, locker room and showers, as well as several exam rooms, a tele-pharmacy, radiology services, a room for minor procedures and more.
“We have a larger clinic downstairs. We have a wellness center,” said Wade. “I think it’s about a thousand, 15 hundred square feet. Upstairs we have the health and social services offices. So all of our elders’ programs, our behavioral health aides, all our advocates that we have working for us, will be upstairs.”
Health-services provider Southcentral Foundation was a partner with the tribe in the planning, design and construction of the center, which is about four times the size of the existing tribal clinic. SCF family physician and medical director Dr. Doug Eby said the building was also designed with both disease prevention and medical care in mind.
“What you’re sitting in a wellness center connected to a clinic, connected to a community health organization. That’s incredible,” said Eby. “And the message this attitude brings to all of us about bringing all of that together – mind, body, spirit, wellness, illness, medical and community health and well being — It’s just a fabulous, fabulous model.”
Still, Lisa Wade said the center’s most important feature is its location. It’s a 40-minute drive to the next medical facility. Having the center in Sutton will save lives she said, citing the case of a child who was brought to their existing clinic with a high fever and seizures.
If it weren’t for having that clinic there, the doctors at the emergency room, after he was transferred over, thought that he probably would have had permanent brain damage if not passed away,” said Wade. “Because of the ability of us to provide oxygen, and care, and manage his seizures, he’s still alive today.”
The health center and will begin seeing customers in January.