Gambell’s new health clinic now open to patients

One of the blue and white exam rooms in the new Gambell clinic. (Photo: Davis Hovey, KNOM)

After several years of providing community health services in an overcrowded building, Norton Sound Health Corporation employees in Gambell now have a bigger and newer space to accommodate the community’s needs.

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At the new Gambell clinic, there’s a full waiting room of adults and about ten school kids who are taking time off from class to update their physicals.

Other patients are visiting the clinic to get a blood test.

Channa Koozaata, the lead health aide has been working with the Gambell clinic, in two different buildings, since 2011. As Koozaata showed the freshly painted, blue and white health facility, she exclaimed that the new clinic is significantly bigger than the old clinic.

“Oh my gosh, the space is…There was not much space (at the old clinic) and there were more exam rooms than what we have now at the new clinic,” Koozaata said.

Despite having fewer exam rooms, Koozaata said the new clinic building can better accommodate more patients, and many of those patients have generally reacted positively to the more modern clinic.

In fact, Koozaata recalls that some people when they walk in, forget they’re still on St. Lawrence Island.

“Whenever they come in they tell us they feel like they’re not in Gambell, because you know, new building,” Koozaata laughed.

Lucy Apatiki is the Vice President for Community Health Services with NHSC and has been living in Gambell her entire life. For Apatiki, the new clinic represents the fulfillment of a dream.

“It is a lifelong desire to actually work out of a new facility large enough to serve the population,” Apatiki said. “Yeah for a number of years we’ve had to work out of the old clinic which had very limited space and got really crowded especially when we had people come out – doctors’ visits, supervisors, instructors, providers from different departments”

Apatiki also mentioned that the main advocate for the new clinic, who put in about 20 years of time and effort to make this project happen, was June Walunga.

Walunga, who is the NSHC Board member for Gambell, was unavailable for comment before the airing of this story.

Even though the upgraded health facility is open for business, boxes still need to be unpacked and the old building needs to be decommissioned. As the transition phase is ongoing, Edna Apatiki who works in Behavioral Health Services at the Gambell clinic, has been struggling to complete the online portion of her work.

“Because I have some issues with downloading and the computer is locked,” Apatiki said. “We have to tell the technical folks over at Norton Sound, to request services from them”

In spite of technical difficulties, Apatiki said she still sees her clients in person and continues her daily activities in a new building that has more reliable water and sewer access.

“About transitioning over here, it’s amazing, it’s quite modern here and we don’t have that old carpet anymore, it would collect dust and we’d breathe it in. But we are very fortunate to be here and we’re very happy.”

Once the old clinic is decommissioned and the transition is completely done, Lucy Apatiki said she would like for Norton Sound Health Corporation clinics to become more integrated and shift their focus to a newer model of healthcare.

“I would like to see a lot more, instead of acute care, branching out to other prevention type healthcare – prenatal, women’s health, I’d really like to focus around that,” Apatiki said. “So that it’s not just all a reaction to what’s coming in, but you know a long term look at empowering the people to take ownership of their own health”

One of the 15 other clinics in the area is located in Savoonga, Gambell’s next door neighbor on the island. Savoonga’s new health clinic also officially opened within the last week – it began seeing patients on Monday.

Davis Hovey is a news reporter at KNOM - Nome.

Hovey was born and raised in Virginia. He spent most of his childhood in Greene County 20 minutes outside of Charlottesville where University of Virginia is located.

Hovis was drawn in by the opportunity to work for a radio station in a remote, unique place like Nome Alaska. Hovis went to Syracuse University, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Broadcast Digital Journalism.

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