President’s Update for March 9, 2012

In this edition...

In this edition …

SEARHC meets with tribal leaders and federal health officials in Washington, D.C.: This week (March 7-9) I was in Washington, D.C., with SEARHC Board Chair Jolene Edenshaw and General Counsel Ken Truitt to attend the 14th annual Tribal Budget and Policy Consultation hosted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The event opened on Wednesday with a tribal caucus briefing on the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI), which is due to expire in 2013 unless it is reauthorized. SEARHC has two grants through the SDPI and diabetes rates are climbing throughout Indian Country, so we are very interested in seeing this critical program continue. On Thursday morning, tribes had an opportunity to have one-on-one sessions with Health and Human Services officials. On Thursday afternoon and all day Friday, we met for our national consultation meeting, which gave tribes an opportunity to provide feedback on national and regional issues impacting tribal health.

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Rhonda Bowen hired as Performance Improvement Division Director: Rhonda Bowen has been named director of SEARHC’s Performance Improvement Division. The Performance Improvement Division coordinates a consortium-wide approach to quality improvement. The division includes three performance improvement managers (one at the Ethel Lund Medical Center in Juneau, one at S’áxt’ Hít Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka and one Sitka-based manager who works with SEARHC’s Community Health Care Services Division), three patient advocates (based in Sitka, Juneau and Klawock), two infection control/safety officers (based in Sitka and Juneau), an employee health nurse and a data specialist. As division director, Rhonda will become a part of SEARHC’s Operations Leadership Team and she will report directly to the chief operating officer. Rhonda has been the performance improvement manager at S’áxt’ Hít Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital since June 2011. Prior to that, she was the co-director of Quality and Compliance at Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend, Wash. Rhonda has more than 11 years experience in health care quality improvement and more than 20 years experience with medical staff services Rhonda’s experience includes LEAN methodology, risk management, medical staff governance, bylaws/rules and regulations, credentialing, privileging, patient safety, infection prevention and control, accreditation and customer service. She holds three national certifications: Certified Professional Healthcare Quality (CPHQ), Certified Professional Medical Services Management (CPMSM), and Certified Provider Credentialing Specialist (CPCS). She was formally certified as a Professional Utilization Review (CPUR). Rhonda grew up in Sitka and she and her husband, Mike, returned home in June 2011 after being in Port Angeles, Wash., for nearly 18 years.

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SEARHC leaders visit employees on Prince of Wales Island: SEARHC Chief Operating Officer Susan Labus, Chief Administrative Officer Matthew Ione and S’áxt Hít Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital Administrator/Medical Director Dr. Marty Grasmeder went to Prince of Wales Island this week (March 7-8) to meet with the clinic employees. On Wednesday they visited the Alicia Roberts Medical Center in Klawock, and on Thursday they visited the Alma Cook Medical Center in Hydaburg. It was a wonderful opportunity to tour the facilities and speak with the staff members. Discussion centered around upcoming benefit changes as well as questions and concerns. A special thank you to ARMC Administrator Joyce Moore for all of her assistance coordinating the tour.

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Alaska Native Medical Center hosts Anchorage-based patient advocates: SEARHC and the Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) formerly shared an Anchorage-based patient advocate who served SEARHC and KANA patients receiving care at the Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC). Recently, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) Chief Executive Officer Roald Helgesen agreed to add another position to the ANMC Customer Experience Department. The new position will be a full-time patient advocate position, whose goal will be to continue advocacy and support for SEARHC and KANA patients. One of the main goals of the ANMC Customer Experience Department is to provide high quality patient advocacy and support for all ANMC patients, regardless of which community in Alaska they reside in. SEARHC patients can call the main phone number for the ANMC Customer Experience Department at 729-3990 for advocacy and support.

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SEARHC Tobacco staff attends statewide training and meetings: Part of the SEARHC Tobacco team was involved in State of Alaska grantee training and other meetings March 5-7 in Anchorage. The two-day state grantee training on March 6-7 focused on how to effectively read, use and communicate data; working with opinion leaders; media and more work with regional teams. SEARHC Tobacco Department Manager Andrea Thomas made a presentation on “Fostering Change in High Risk Populations” with the examples of past and current SEARHC projects. It was very well received and had the largest number of participants in a breakout meeting. Grantees from Southeast Alaska also met on March 5 to brainstorm and create a strategic plan to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplaces. The Southeast regional team presented on the work it has done in the past as an example for other statewide grantees. In addition, SEARHC met with the Alaska Native Advisory statewide team that is working to reduce tobacco use among Alaska Native people.

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SEARHC Community Transformation Grant to host conference April 24-26 in Juneau: The SEARHC Community Transformation Grant program will host a conference April 24-26 in Juneau, which will give community groups, schools and coalitions a chance to build health and wellness practices in Southeast Alaska. The Community Transformation Grants, a national program that uses funds from the Affordable Care Act, are intended to support public health efforts to reduce chronic diseases, promote healthier lifestyles, reduce health disparities and control health care spending. SEARHC has been awarded funds that include several opportunities for community groups, schools and coalitions to apply for sub-awards using the CDC funding. The focus of these sub-awards is on local, organizational changes in worksites, community organizations and schools that will build a legacy of health for years to come. This opportunity will be implemented in Southeast Alaska in the form of $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 and $24,500 sub-awards to community groups, schools, and coalitions that band together to develop policies that will have far-reaching benefits. Space is limited for this event, so tribes, communities and schools are being targeted before other groups. Some travel scholarships are available to attend the conference. Please contact Martha Pearson at martha.pearson@searhc.org or 966-8783 no later than March 31, if you are interested.

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SEARHC staff, tribal reps to attend tribal veteran representative training: SEARHC staff and other tribal members from around Southeast Alaska will attend a tribal veteran representative (TVR) training March 12-16 in Anchorage. The Alaska VA (Veterans Affairs) Healthcare System is sponsoring the training, which trains TVRs about VA benefits, programs and services available to veterans. TVRs are Alaska Native veterans or other individuals recognized by an Alaska Native community, government, corporation or organization. They are not VA employees. The TVR represents a specific Native organization and serves as a liaison between their organization and the VA. TVRs help Alaska Native veterans in their organization with eligibility requirements, initial applications for services and placement for direct VA services. They also provide information to Native veterans in their organization about VA programs and services. In addition to this month’s training, there will be another one in the fall. To learn more about the TVR program or to apply to become a TVR, contact VA Rural Health Coordinator Susan Yeager in Anchorage at 257-4864 or susan.yeager@va.gov, VA Minority Veterans Program Coordinator Kathleen Johnson in Anchorage at 257-5449, or SEARHC Special Assistant to the President Libby Watanabe in Juneau at 463-6680 or libby.watanabe@searhc.org.

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SEARHC to host men’s cancer survivor retreat this June in Wrangell: SEARHC is recruiting cancer survivors for its second annual Southeast Men’s Prostate and Testicular Cancer Survivor Retreat on June 1-3 in Wrangell. The retreat has 15 slots open to Alaska Native survivors of prostate or testicular cancer who live in Southeast Alaska. If there are unfilled openings after the application deadline of March 30, they will become available for non-Native men. The retreat allows the men a chance to share experiences about their cancer and talk with health care experts. Evening discussions will be led by Alaska Native Medical Center lead oncologist Dr. Greg Marino, recently retired ANMC urologist Dr. Michael Singsaas and SEARHC Community Health Care Services Medical Director Dr. Russ Bowman. SEARHC Behavioral Health/Suicide Prevention Program Manager Wilbur Brown will facilitate and SEARHC Community Health Care Services Health Systems Specialist Richelle Whitson will provide logistical support. In addition to sharing their cancer experiences, the men will receive round-trip transportation to Hardings Old Sourdough Lodge in Wrangell, meals and snacks, lodging, and a guided fishing trip or a jet boat excursion on the Stikine River. All expenses and equipment will be covered, and no sport fishing experience is necessary. The retreat is funded through grants from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Alaska Prostate Cancer Coalition, with other funders possible. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium provided the services of Dr. Marino and Dr. Singsaas for the retreat. Space is limited on the retreat, so the earlier men apply the better their chances of being included in the program. To learn more about the retreat and receive an application, contact Richelle Whitson at 966-8948 or Dr. Russ Bowman at 966-8779 (both are located in Sitka).

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Affordable Care Act nears end of second year since being signed into law: Did you know that March 23 marks the second anniversary of the Affordable Care Act being signed into law? Since that historic day:

  • Almost 50,000 Americans with serious medical conditions, like heart disease and stroke, have been able to access health care coverage through the pre-existing condition insurance plans (PCIPs) established under the law. Beginning in 2014, insurance plans will not be allowed to deny someone coverage because of a pre-existing condition.
  • 54 million Americans were able to receive at least one preventive service for free under their private health insurance plans, including healthy diet counseling and obesity screening, cholesterol and blood pressure screening, and tobacco-use counseling.
  • 32.5 million Americans with Medicare received at least one free preventive benefit, including the new annual wellness visit, and nearly 3.6 million beneficiaries saved $2.1 billion on their prescription drugs.
  • An additional 2.5 million young adults now have health care coverage because they are able to stay on their parents' plan until the age of 26.
  • In Alaska, the health law ended lifetime coverage limits for 237,000 Alaskans, including 86,000 women and 64,000 children. Before health reform, many Americans with serious illnesses such as cancer risked hitting the lifetime limit on the dollar amount their insurance companies would cover for their health care benefits.

In addition, the Affordable Care Act included a permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA), which had gone more than a decade since authorization for appropriations expired in 2000. While various versions of the IHCIA had been before Congress since that time, none of them passed until it was included in the Affordable Care Act. Now there is no expiration date. In addition, the IHCIA upgraded Indian health services by allowing tribal health groups to provide hospice and home- or community-based care, allows tribal health groups to partner with VA programs to share medical facilities and services, updated laws regarding tribal collections from Medicare/Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs (such as Denali KidCare), and more.

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Just a reminder …

Spring mobile mammogram van schedule announced: The SEARHC WISEWOMAN Women’s Health Program and Bartlett Regional Hospital have announced the Spring 2012 schedule for the mobile mammogram program. The mobile mammography van will visit Kake on May 1-4, Haines on May 9-22, Angoon on May 24-30, Skagway on June 4-7, Yakutat on June 13-18, and Gustavus on June 22 (no weekend appointments). Women are encouraged to contact their local clinics prior to the scheduled visit because they will need to receive a clinical breast exam before they can get their mammograms. The mobile mammography program is run through a partnership between Bartlett Regional Hospital and the SEARHC WISEWOMAN Women’s Health Program. It makes regular mammography screening services available to women who live in communities where they aren’t available year round. The SEARHC WISEWOMAN Women’s Health Program provides free clinical breast exams, mammograms, Pap tests and cardiovascular screenings for all women ages 40 and older who meet income and insurance guidelines. For more information, contact your local clinic, call the SEARHC WISEWOMAN Women’s Health Program in Sitka at 966-8782 (or 1-888-388-8782, toll-free in Alaska), or send e-mail to askwh@searhc.org. For more information about services available through the SEARHC WISEWOMAN Women’s Health Program, go to http://www.searhc.org/womenshealth/.

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SEARHC patient advocates serve as customer liaisons: SEARHC has three patient advocates in Southeast Alaska — Bryan Whitson (Sitka), Ashley Hunt (Juneau) and Cyndi Reeves (POW) — who serve as customer service liaisons between patients and SEARHC, and help patients navigate their way through SEARHC’s health system. Also, 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 Juneau, Haines, Skagway, Klukwan and Hoonah should contact Ashley Hunt at 463-6656. Patients in Klawock, Craig, Hydaburg, Kasaan, Thorne Bay and other POW communities should contact Cyndi Reeves at 755-4983 (965-0040, cell). Patients traveling to Anchorage for care should contact the ANMC patient advocates at 729-3990.

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2012 Ethel Lund Village Health Occupations Program (VHOP) applications available: Each year, SEARHC selects several Southeast-area Native students interested in health careers for the Ethel Lund Village Health Occupations Program (VHOP), and the students spend a week at S’áxt’ Hít Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka learning about different health careers and educational requirements. The health field is growing, which means plenty of job opportunities for people with the right training. Health careers usually offer good pay and employee benefits, as well as the satisfaction of helping others. This year's VHOP session is scheduled for April 24-27, with travel dates being April 23 and 28. Students selected to participate in VHOP receive assistance to cover the travel costs to and from Sitka, housing, meals and some evening entertainment. The application deadline is Friday, March 23. Completed applications may be mailed to Jessika Beam, SEARHC Tribal Recruitment Coordinator, c/o Human Resources Department, 222 Tongass Drive, Sitka, AK 99835. Applications also can be faxed to 966-8527, or scanned and e-mailed to jessika.beam@searhc.org. For more information, contact Jessika at 966-8903 in Sitka. Because space is limited, interested students should apply early. Application packets are available at high school offices, at local village corporations or by going to http://www.searhc.org/students/vhop.php.

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SEARHC hosts summer internship program for Natives: Applications are available for the SEARHC Summer Internship Program, which provides work experience for Alaska Native/American Indian students pursuing careers in health care. The SEARHC Summer Internship Program provides opportunities for six Alaska Native/American Indian students who are studying at the high school, bachelor’s degree and/or master’s degree/clinical level. The program allows participants to explore career options in health care, and the interns receive valuable on-the-job training in their health care career of interest and an hourly stipend. At the end of the program, interns will receive a performance evaluation with valuable feedback from their mentor(s). The application deadline is Friday, May 11 (the application must be received or postmarked by this date), and the final selection of interns takes place on May 21. The internship program runs from June through September 2012. During the program, the interns will work a minimum of 30 hours and a maximum of 40 hours per week under the supervision of a manager at a SEARHC facility. Although an hourly stipend is provided, interns are responsible for their own housing and transportation during the internship program. SEARHC will not provide housing and/or transportation. Completed applications may be mailed to Jessika Beam (966-8903) at SEARHC, c/o Human Resources Department, 222 Tongass Drive, Sitka, AK 99835. Applications also can be faxed to 966-8527, or scanned and e-mailed to jessika.beam@searhc.org. Application packets and additional details are available at Southeast Alaska high school offices, through local tribal organizations or by going to http://searhc.org/students/college_interns.php.

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SEARHC hosts 24/7 crisis help line, toll-free at 1-877-294-0074: 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.

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Charles Clement SEARHC President/CEO