COO Frank Sutton retires after 40 years at SEARHC

August 04 2011

After 40 years with the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), Chief Operating Officer Frank Sutton is retiring this week. “I appreciate everything Mr. Sutton has done for our organization,” SEARHC President and CEO Roald Helgesen said. “SEARHC is forever thankful to Frank for his many years of dedicated service. He has been a mentor to many staff over the years.” “The Board of Directors honors Frank’s 40 years of commitment to our Native people,” said Jolene Edenshaw, Chair of the SEARHC Board of Directors. “We wish Frank all the best in his retirement and well-deserved time with his family. Háw’aa!” Sutton was a young pharmacist with the U.S. Public Health Service in 1971 when he arrived in Sitka to work at S’áxt’ Hít Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital (his original assignment was Kotzebue, but the USPHS changed it to Sitka just before Sutton came to Alaska). He quickly became chief pharmacist, and in 1978 Sutton was named Hospital Administrative Officer. SEARHC promoted Sutton to Vice President of Hospital Services in 1999, and in 2009 he became Chief Operating Officer. Sutton’s official last day with SEARHC is Friday, Aug. 5, but later this summer SEARHC plans to host a pair of receptions in Sitka and Juneau to honor Sutton’s career. “There have been so many high points during my 40 year career in Native health in Southeast Alaska. It is hard to sum up a lifetime of work in a few words,” Sutton said. “The highlight of my career was being adopted by the Raven Coho clan and being given the name S’áxt’ Hít S’aatí (Boss of the House of Medicine). I have learned so much from so many people that has helped shape me as a leader in health care. I have had the privilege of working with so many wonderful, dedicated people.” Sutton said two of the most important mentors in his work life were longtime SEARHC president and leader Ethel Lund (SEARHC’s current president emeritus) and Art Willman, who was the Indian Health Service’s service unit director and SEARHC vice president of operations during the 1970s-90s. Another co-worker to have a big impact on Sutton’s career was former vice president of community health services Mark Gorman, who became one of Sutton’s main sounding boards during the 1990s and 2000s. “Having said all this, my greatest supporter and source of strength has come from my wife of 43 years. No matter what the situation, Cathy has been there for me,” Sutton said. Sutton holds a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy from Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, Okla., and a Master of Science degree in health care administration from Trinity University of San Antonio, Texas. Sutton is a retired Captain in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, with 28 years as an officer in the USPHS. He became a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) in 2006 and received the ACHE’s Regent Award for Alaska in 2009. During his tenure, Sutton became known for building partnerships with other health care organizations to help improve the services available in the community. One of his biggest partnerships was with former Sitka Community Hospital CEO Moe Chaudry, and they teamed up to take their hospitals through the Level IV Trauma Center application process together, becoming the first in Southeast Alaska to earn the designation in 2006. Sutton and Chaudry also helped launch the Sitka Health Summit in 2007 and served as co-chairs during the summit’s first year. The American Hospital Association, in partnership with the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association (ASHNHA), honored Sutton in 2007 as the Alaska winner of the Partnership for Action Grassroots Champion Award. Sutton also is a former chair of ASHNHA. SEARHC is a non-profit tribal health consortium of 18 Native communities that provides medical, dental, behavioral health, substance abuse treatment and wellness services to Tlingít, Haida, Tsimshian and other Native people in Southeast Alaska. Established in 1975 under the provisions of the Indian Self-Determination Act, SEARHC is one of the oldest and largest Native-run health organizations in the country. SEARHC is the largest private employer in Southeast Alaska with nearly 1,000 employees.