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Melanee Tiura steps down as IFHS clinic director

Melanee Tiura was hired as CEO of the Iliuliuk Family and Health Services clinic in September 2019 after a seven-month search.
Hope McKenney
Melanee Tiura was hired as CEO of the Iliuliuk Family and Health Services clinic in September 2019 after a seven-month search.

Iliuliuk Family and Health Services’ clinic director is stepping down after more than two years at the helm of the Unalaska clinic.

Melanee Tiura will be taking a job as an administrator with Providence Medical Center in Valdez. Her last day at IFHS is Dec. 10.

Tiura was hired in September 2019 after a seven-month search. She took over the position from interim director Will Rodgers, who stepped in after the resignation of former director James Kaech. Rodgers will be stepping back into the position until a permanent replacement is found.

Tiura was recently nominated for the city’s Extra Mile Award for her role in helping the community navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

KUCB’s Hope McKenney sat down with Tiura to talk about her time on the island, the pandemic and what’s next.


HOPE MCKENNEY: You moved to the island just over two years ago. The majority of your time leading the clinic has been during a global pandemic. How has that affected both the clinic and how you’ve had to do your job?

MELANEE TIURA: Wow. So yeah, nobody plans for a pandemic, right, I could never have predicted that that's what would, you know, be the focus of the last year and a half, two years. It has changed probably everything about all of our jobs in some way. For us, you know, we didn't have the luxury of going remote. We attempted telemedicine visits, very difficult based on the internet, based on our patient's internet, not necessarily ours. But for our patients’ sake, that was difficult. So where other facilities were able to do a remote option, we just really didn't have that luxury. It didn't work as well for us. We tried phone based for a while as well. I think that's actually worse, you know, where you would have your call interrupted three plus times in a short conversation. So we had some challenges with that. But we were able to do amazing things. So our team is incredible. They're incredible people. But they're incredible providers. And they did a fantastic job. Everyone was really flexible. I know it was hard for everybody. And plus the added worry of, “Am I going to get sick? Am I going to get COVID from being at work, from caring for people who have COVID?” It's been a national issue. So that added worry, that added stress. It was not an easy year, easy two years for anybody. But I think we did amazing work. I think the collaboration with the city has strengthened us all, I think that's gone really well. And we've worked very closely together. And when I say the city, that's of course the EOC, but it's also fire and EMS, having a lot of those large events collaborating with other entities, APIA. So we had a really good, I think, a really good group kind of tackling those issues of how do we get what we need? How do we keep the community safe? How do we get the testing supplies we need working with the state? And then how do we get the vaccines that we need? So it's just been a really great experience for something that was really hard.

MCKENNEY: We're at a clinic that has seen a lot of turnover, especially of itsCEOs over the years. I've heard at one point, there were about seven clinic directors over the course of five years. You seem to bring a lot of stability to the clinic, from the people I've talked to from even just my own time here. How do you think that leaving at this time will affect things here at the clinic? And do you think you've left it in a good place to continue forward?

TIURA: I don't think it was any surprise to anybody that we were in a difficult spot at the end of 2019. When I came, financially, we were in a really tough spot. And so the last couple of years from that perspective have not been easy. We've made a lot of decisions. We've done a lot of hard work. We've done a lot on both the revenue and the expense side. We're in a solid place right now. I feel really good about what we've been able to accomplish in my time in the last couple of years. The clinic is definitely in a good position in many many respects. We'll still have our challenges like every place else, right? Turnover is hard. You think of it kind of like a storm that you have to weather. You know, one person comes out, a new person comes in. There's a lot of emotion that goes along with that. A lot of hardship that comes with those transitions. So I'm trying to make that as smooth as possible. We do have an interim gentlemen who covered before I got here who has graciously agreed to return. So for us, that adds another element of stability, where we'll be able to hand off specific projects. And we also have some members of our team that are going to be stepping up to help with that transition to make sure it goes very well.

MCKENNEY: Do you feel like you accomplished what you were hoping to accomplish during your time here? What are you most proud of? Are there things that you wish you could have accomplished or gotten to during your two and a half years?

TIURA: I feel really good about where we're at. I feel really good about what's been accomplished. I won't say by myself, but by the team as a whole. What am I most proud of? I'm most proud of our people. I'm most proud of our staff. I think they inspire greatness. That's been wonderful. I'm very proud of our city, our city leadership. I'm really proud of the City Council. I think they've done some hard things against some criticism for it. They've done a fantastic job to make decisions that I think have helped to keep people safe. I'm really proud of the community for doing the hard things. Nobody likes that. Nobody likes any restrictions of any sort. I don't either. So it's been a hard couple of years. But people have really, they've really done a great job. I'm also very proud of industry. We spent a lot of time together over the course of the last couple of years working with outbreaks and plans. The school is another example, just working on those plans of how do we mitigate this. And we really did some amazing things. And we have some other comparisons throughout the state to know that the way we did things, it worked really, really well. And it wasn't based on one person's efforts, it was based on everybody's efforts and all of that diligence. So I've been meeting with companies this past week, and we've kind of done this little year or two in review. And it's just been a tremendous amount of work, a labor of love for everybody. But the outcome has been so good. So I'm really proud of that. I'm proud that today we have zero cases. And that doesn't happen by accident. It's not happening anywhere else by accident. Those are intentional actions from all of us. So I'm really proud of where we're at.

MCKENNEY: I moved here shortly before you did, and this island has really captured my heart. I love living here and reporting here and being a part of this community. How has it been for you? What have you been doing in your time that hasn't been here at the clinic? I know, this has taken up a lot of time over the last couple years. But like what has it been like for you to live on this island for two plus years?

TIURA: We'd loved it here. Deciding to do something different, to transition off of the island was a really hard decision for us, for our whole family. My husband, myself, my children, we love it here. It's beautiful. My husband and I were actually just drinking coffee the other night talking about Unalaska and its beauty. And every day, and I'm not exaggerating, every single day I say to myself, “It's another beautiful day in Unalaska.” Doesn't matter if it's storming, it doesn't matter if it's clear, it's just breathtaking, it's beautiful. And we've been able to be a part of so many things here, there's always community things to do, even when it's COVID and a little restricted and people aren't gathering the way they were. Every kind of virtual run, we were there. If it was in person, we were there too. The bazaars and the sports for the kids and the pottery room, of course, we've been excited to be a part of all the things that this community has to offer. People are warm, and they're friendly, and they're open and they're kind. And that's just been a great thing for us. I remember moving here, and you know, somebody brought pizza to our door that first week, and you know, you're a new person, you don't know anybody and to have somebody come up to your door to say, “Welcome, we're glad you're here.” It's just really kind. So it has been like that throughout the last couple of years. Again, some hard times too, right? Having COVID throughout the community and all of those measures, has put a damper on things. And it has restrained us all a bit. But it’s a lovely place. And we will always remember it fondly.

MCKENNEY: So what's next for you? What's next for your family? Where are you headed?

TIURA: So we're headed to Valdez, Alaska. Again, still rural Alaska, but on the road system. I have an administrator position with Providence Valdez Medical Center. And so I'll be starting that later in December. So we're excited about that opportunity as well.

MCKENNEY: Well, I don't know that I have more questions. Is there anything else I should have asked you or you'd like to share?

TIURA: I’m just very thankful. I'm thankful for having been here for the last two years. You think of all of the places you could be in the U.S. for these last two hard years and we have had a lot of traumatic things happen over those two years. It hasn't been an easy time. But the commitment of the community to each other has been humbling to me. And I don't think I would have seen that in the last two years anywhere else on this level. I think being so rural, being all we have, I think has really brought a lot of people together. And so I just feel very blessed to have been a part of it.

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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