Healthcare in rural Alaska faces unique challenges. With few doctors and unpredictable weather, village clinics are often a community’s only local option for care. That’s the case in the St. Lawrence Island community of Savoonga, but the clinic’s highly certified health aides have earned recognition across the state.
Health aides Briane Gologergen and Danielle Reynolds had been on the job for just six months when faced with their first emergency. Someone in Savoonga had been shot and needed a chest tube.
Gologergen called a doctor in Nome. There was a chance the patient could be flown to Norton Sound Regional Hospital for emergency care. The first time she checked the weather, the skies were clear for flying.
“I went to go check again, and it was like thick ice fog,” Gologergen said. The doctor told her they would have to do a chest tube. Gologergen and Reynolds had no idea what that was, but the doctor in Nome talked them through the procedure, and the two pulled it off.
Between that emergency and a handful of others, Reynolds said she and Gologergen became a great team, something their fellow health aides appreciated.
“They didn’t mind that we were partners every single time we did something, because they knew we worked well together,” Reynolds explained.
Reynolds and Gologergen said they learned a lot those first few months. When they weren’t on call or busy with patients, Gologergen said they practiced on each other. “Like TB skin tests,” Gologergen explained.
A Tuberculosis skin test involves an injection under the top layer of skin. The simple shot shouldn’t hurt.
“I made her cry,” Gologergen confessed.
“I was like ‘ahh!’, and I cried a couple of tears,” said Reynolds.
The two have supported each other through a lot of pain and long hours over the last five years. Gologergen said it started to weigh down on them this winter.
“We were all getting that ‘burnout feeling,’ like, ‘oh, I wish I could get a different job where I could spend more time with my family,’” Gologergen said.
“Or ‘I wish I could go on a vacation for, like, a month,’” Reynolds added.
“It was just a lot of little things building up, and then we got the email,” Gologergen explained.
The email revealed that Savoonga’s health aides were the recipients of this year’s Distinguished Providers Award.
The Healthy Alaska Natives Foundation sponsors the award. According to the foundation’s website, Savoonga’s health aides were selected for their resilience and strength in emergency situations, something both Gologergen and Reynolds have the scars to prove.