For the first time in two decades, Unalaska's clinic has a new policy for handling after-hours calls for non-emergency medical help.
But right now, it's not exactly clear what that policy is.
Iliuliuk Family and Health Services (IFHS) is open from 8:30 a.m. until at 6 p.m. At any other time, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) has long been responsible for answering requests for medical attention and then connecting patients with the clinic's on-call staff.
Deputy Chief Jennifer Shockley said DPS volunteered to act as the middleman more than 20 years ago, when the island had limited, less reliable communications. Now, she said there's just no need.
"Where we're at today, we have entirely new technology — cell phones, call forwarding, and phone systems that you can set up to do all manner of things," said Shockley. "Simply, the technology has reached a point where we're not really necessary as a go-between anymore."
Shockley said DPS also wants to avoid the risk of having dispatchers interpret medical information from patients.
"Our staff members aren't trained medical care providers," she said. "As we all know, information can get lost in translation as it's being passed from one person to another. If somebody got the wrong medical care because of information we has passed on ... we don't want to be in the position for being liable for that."
Shockley said DPS has been talking with city and clinic officials since March about making a change this summer. The clinic's medical director — Dr. Ann Nora Ehret — said she has no comment beyond calling it a "unilateral decision."
Still, Ehret said the clinic's after-hours policy is "in transition." For now, she said patients should call the clinic's main phone number and then follow the instructions of the automated directory.
As of Thursday morning, that directory still told callers to contact DPS.
While the clinic's policy is in transition for non-emergency calls, Shockley said Unalaskans should still contact DPS for emergency help.
"The ambulance service is absolutely still working and it still goes to the clinic," she said. "The only thing that's ending is our handling of the after-hours calls for non-emergency medical care."
The change goes into effect Thursday, Sept. 1.