Alaska Native Medical Center begins emergency services expansion

ANTHC CEO and President Valerie Nurr’araluk Davidson. (Matthew Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska Native Medical Center has begun work on a major expansion of its emergency services department. The department is run by Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, or ANTHC.

President and CEO Valerie Nurr’araluk Davidson said the emergency department is overtaxed.

“It’s not (that) people are in beds in the hallway some of the time,” Davidson said. “That’s every day for us right now. It is incredibly tight. It is incredibly cramped, and it is not meeting the best standard of care.”

The hospital is based in Anchorage but serves Alaska Native people across the state and anyone from a federally recognized tribe. Davidson said the expansion is long overdue. She said sometimes the department is so full that ambulances must park or drive around with patients until a bed opens up. The emergency department has not expanded since 1997 when the facility opened.

The first phase of construction will cost about $250 million, according to ANTHC. It will include more beds, surgery recovery spaces, a drive-through ambulance bay, and 15 dedicated behavioral health treatment spaces. Davidson said those beds will serve people in crisis. 

“This may be somebody who is having an acute episode. It may be somebody who is experiencing suicidal ideation,” Davidson said. “And we can admit them into those 15 Behavioral Health beds and then work with them to stabilize them, help them through that crisis and find a more appropriate setting for their next level of service.”

Alaska Native Medical Center’s emergency services department. (Matthew Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Davidson said this expansion is the first step in updating ANTHC facilities. The organization’s mission is to ensure that “Alaska Native people are the healthiest people in the world,” and she said that will take more work. 

“We deserve to be the healthiest people,” Davidson said. “But we also know that given our limitations in the lack of fund funding and facilities and infrastructure, that it’s going to take a lot more facilities, a lot more investment to be able to make sure that that happens.”

Davidson said ANTHC is looking for funding for a second phase of the hospital expansion that would create private rooms for patients and add a helicopter landing pad to the roof for trauma response. It’s estimated to cost another $200 million.

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Rachel Cassandra covers health and wellness for Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Rachel here.

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