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Unalaska health clinic requests around $1M from city for emergency services

Sofia Stuart-Rasi
IFHS CEO Noel Rea is seeking funds from the city’s Community Support Grant program to pay staff and maintain current emergency services.

Iliuliuk Family and Health Services (IFHS) requested just over a million dollars from the city to supplement emergency care expenses. The $1,047,441.46 request came at a city council meeting Feb. 27. The council ultimately directed the city manager to create a proposal to fund the request.

IFHS, which was founded in 1972, is in the process of designing and constructing a new healthcare facility expected to expand care offerings and change the way ER services are billed.

IFHS CEO Noel Rea is seeking funds from the city’s Community Support Grant program to pay staff and maintain current emergency services. Funds from that pot also support local nonprofits like Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence and the Museum of the Aleutians.

“It's a clinic, so it can't charge ER charges,” Rea said. “We're able to charge clinic fees plus a modest add-on, and then we try and collect what we can.”

Rea emphasized that with the expiration of COVID relief funding, supporting emergency services presents a financial burden on the clinic.

“COVID was good for a lot of rural health facilities in terms of their financial bottom line. It wasn't good. But there was enough funding going around that most of them had a positive bottom line for a couple years,” Rea said. “[But now] even hospitals are running a deficit. We're certainly doing the same by running the ER.”

Councilmember Thom Bell said his initial apprehension about awarding over a million dollars to IFHS dissipated after considering the importance of round-the-clock care for the community.

“If there was no ER service, or no service during the evenings, [imagine] someone's child, someone has a medical issue, and they need to be stabilized so that they could be medevaced out to Anchorage, or in a situation where care could be given here so we don't have to medevac,” Bell said. “I think we'd look back and go, ‘Why didn't we spend a million dollars?’ It would be a small amount to pay.”

But Bell and other members of the council expressed concern over where the funding would come from.

Councilmember Shari Coleman recommended Rea seek an interest-free loan from the city instead of a grant.

Councilmember Daneen Looby asked about funding in the long term.

“So, if we do this this year, are you going to be coming back next year asking for the same?” Looby said. “Because this isn't just a one year problem, right?”

Still, Rea wrote in a letter to the council that losing emergency services at the clinic would represent “a lower quality of life on the island,” and could leave employers with “a much more difficult time recruiting employees.”

“I think it's notable that we have a number of board members that get a lot of their funds out of that grant to keep their organizations going, but they're still standing by this request because they feel it's important,” said Rea.

It’s not clear when the city manager’s funding proposal will be put forward, but Assistant City Manager Marjie Veeder said late March or early April is likely. The Community Support Grant program hearing will take place April 8.

Born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, Andy Lusk is a writer, travel enthusiast and seafood aficionado who won the jackpot by landing in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. When he's not hiking or working on his latest story, you can find him curled up with his cats and a good book. Andy is a Report for America corps member and an alumnus of New York University.
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