The “1 is 2many” regional suicide prevention task force for Southeast Alaska met Dec. 6-7 in Juneau for its quarterly face-to-face meeting. The agenda included overviews on the Garrett Lee Smith grant (Suicide Prevention), Strategic Prevention Framework State of Alaska grant (addresses heavy and binge drinking in youth and adults) and the MSPI (Methamphetamine and Suicide Prevention Initiative). The meeting also featured an update on the One People Canoe Society, an update on Youth Ambassadors, an overview of Teen Gatekeeper Training that is being created, and we had discussions on our media campaign, “Survivors Voices Training,” as well as the Task Force Structure. A few highlights: We would like to welcome our two new members to the task force Doug Chilton of the One People Canoe Society and Lindsey Kato of NAMI-Juneau (National Alliance on Mental Illness). From the canoe journey back in June 2012 to raise awareness on Suicide Prevention, we are still receiving positive feedback and learning that our message was spread more than we know.
On Friday, Dec. 14, SEARHC received word from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services that SEARHC S’áxt’ Hít Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital and other hospitals around the state might be needed to accept a surge of patients from overflowing Anchorage hospitals. The three Anchorage hospitals — Alaska Native Medical Center, Providence Alaska Hospital and Alaska Regional Hospital — were put on a divert status due to an influx of patients and lack of available beds. The Anchorage hospitals reported there was no one cause for the influx of patients, but there were a number of patients with the flu. As of Friday afternoon nobody had been relocated, but plans were to transfer new patients in Anchorage to the Elmendorf Hospital on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), Mat-Su Regional Hospital and Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna first, before other patients might have to be medevacked to Southeast or Fairbanks.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 11-12, SEARHC helped the Alaska VA Healthcare System host a Tribal VA Representative (TVR) training at the SEARHC At Kaník Hít Community Health building in Sitka. The Alaska VA Healthcare System also hosted a general information meeting for the public on Thursday, Dec. 13, at Harrigan Centennial Hall. The purpose of this knowledge-based TVR training is to help the attendees understand VA benefits, programs, and services available to veterans who have served this country. A TVR is an Alaska Native veteran or recognized individual appointed by an Alaska Native community, government, corporation or organization. The understanding is that the TVR is not a VA employee. The TVR is recognized solely as a representative for the Native organization who appoints them and serves as a liaison between the Alaska Native and rural veterans entity that appoints them and the Veterans Administration (VA). The VA, in turn, provides ongoing training on program eligibility requirements, assistance in initiating applications for services, and coordination of placement for direct VA services. The goal is to organize a dependable means of meeting with and communicating about VA programs that could serve the Alaska Native population and rural veterans. Please consider who in your community would be a respected local resource who can devote the necessary time within your community to explain programs and benefits available to Alaska Native veterans. The Alaska VA Healthcare System hosts additional TVR trainings during the year, so if you know of anyone interested please let them know and have them contact their tribal organization to complete an application. For information, please contact Sharon Strutz-Norton, Rural Health Assistant to Susan Yeager, VA Rural Health Coordinator, at 907-257-5481 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to an article in the Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, edition of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Alaska has again been ranked first in the nation for funding programs to prevent children from smoking and helping smokers quit, according to a national report released last week by several health organizations. It is the third consecutive year Alaska has been at the top of the list. Alaska spends $10.9 million per year on tobacco prevention and cessation programs, which meets the funding level recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the report released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. The report also found that Alaska this year will collect $103 million in revenue from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes and will spend 10.5 percent of it on tobacco prevention programs. It also found that tobacco companies spend $17 million per year to market their products in Alaska, according to a news release about the report. The annual report on states’ funding of tobacco prevention programs is titled “Broken Promises to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 14 Years Later.”
Building on his established record of fighting for Alaska Native priorities, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich this week secured a seat on the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA), where he will gain an even more significant role in advocating for Alaska’s first peoples, according to a press release from the senator’s office. With almost half the tribes in the country located in Alaska, Sen. Begich’s appointment to the committee will allow him to expand on his long list of accomplishments, including protecting subsistence rights, investing in rural housing, jobs, and education, and strengthening and streamlining the role of the Indian Health Service (IHS) in delivering care to Alaska’s rural and tribal communities. Alaska Native corporations and organizations provide a substantial economic boost to Alaska’s overall economy, both by creating rural jobs and attracting federal investment, which Begich has pushed for. A cornerstone of Sen. Begich’s legislative agenda in the Senate is his Safe Families and Villages Act, a bill to improve public safety in Alaska’s most remote communities. The bill, which Sen. Begich plans to reintroduce next Congress through his new position, would empower tribes and local leadership in rural villages with the tools necessary to combat high rates of drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and suicide. The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) has been a strong supporter Begich’s bill. Since arriving in the Senate, Sen. Begich has negotiated agreements between Alaska Native tribal health organizations and the VA, allowing rural veterans to access health care in their home communities instead of traveling to Anchorage or Seattle. He introduced the Alaska Hero’s Card Act, which would allow Alaska veterans to have the choice to access care from clinics and other treatment facilities close to home. His idea was recently mirrored in new IHS policy.
If you haven’t already done so, please check out SEARHC’s new page on Facebook. This page will provide people with updates about what’s happening around the consortium. This page is new, so it will be adding more content over time. If you’re on Facebook, please like our page so you can keep up on the news at SEARHC.
SEARHC has three patient advocate positions in Southeast Alaska — Bryan Whitson (Sitka), Cyndi Reeves (POW), and Debra Graceland (Juneau) — who serve as customer service liaisons between patients and SEARHC, and help patients navigate their way through SEARHC’s health system. In addition, the Alaska Native Medical Center provides Anchorage-based patient advocates who serve patients from around the state receiving care at the Alaska Native Medical Center. Patients living in Sitka, Angoon, Kake, Pelican, Tenakee Springs, Yakutat, Petersburg and Wrangell should contact Bryan Whitson at 966-8860. Patients in Klawock, Craig, Hydaburg, Kasaan, Thorne Bay and other POW communities should contact Cyndi Reeves at 755-4983 (965-0040, cell). Patients in Juneau, Haines, Skagway, Klukwan and Hoonah should contact Debra Graceland (463-6656). Patients traveling to Anchorage for care should contact the ANMC patient advocates at 729-3990.
A personal or family crisis doesn’t always happen during clinic hours, so the SEARHC Behavioral Health Division has contracted with a crisis call center to provide help for Southeast Alaska residents when they need it most. The SEARHC Help Line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it will be staffed with a team of master’s-degree-level mental health therapists who will listen and provide effective, compassionate care. This line provides confidential telephone counseling for people during a time of mental health crisis, and it is not just an answering service. The counselors will assess the situation and provide appropriate intervention using protocols developed with SEARHC Behavioral Health. Follow-up calls from SEARHC Behavioral Health or our partner agencies will be made the next business day. For more information, contact SEARHC Behavioral Health/Suicide Prevention Program Manager Wilbur Brown at 966-8753.
SEARHC has a 24/7 on-call travel coordinator to assist patients needing after-hours help while traveling for a medical appointment. The on-call staff person helps patients find new connections when a plane is diverted by weather, or assists with late-night housing. For assistance, call 1-800-916-8566 (toll-free in Alaska) or 1-907-966-8345 in Sitka, and then follow the prompts. To help us better help you, please call as soon as you know your travel schedule has been changed. For patients needing assistance from the Community Resources Program (contract health), such as emergency health care while traveling, call 1-866-966-8316 (toll-free).