Native Primary Care Center Opens In the Mat-Su Valley

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by Russ Slaten

Original Air Date: August 1, 2012

Officials celebrated the early completion of the Valley Native Primary Care Center in Wasilla today with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The new center will allow native valley residents to take advantage of similar services from the Alaska Native Medical Center in a more reasonable location.

There are currently 5,000 Alaska Native customer-owners in the Mat-Su Borough. Next year, that number is expected to double. Southcentral Foundation recognized that need and created the primary care center.

Southcentral Foundation--along with the Knik and Chickaloon Village Councils--will be responsible for operating the new center located on the corner of Knik-Goose Bay Road and the Palmer-Wasilla Highway.

The center will provide primary care, behavioral health, dietary, radiology and pharmacy services. At full capacity, the center will house 60 exam rooms, 28 talking rooms and 25 dental chairs. Dental, optometry and audiology services will be phased in as operational funding becomes available through the Indian Health Service.

The idea for a center like this 84,000 square-foot facility began 15 years ago.

"We've had a small, tiny little primary care clinic, and about 15 years ago, we began talking about growing the clinic into a more sizable facility that can provide services to the whole Mat-Su area," said Southcentral Foundation President and CEO Katherine Gottlieb.

The center was expected to finish construction in October, but thanks to an efficient working crew, customer-owners will be able to receive services as early as August.

"To prevent many of the catastrophic illnesses, it's just preventative. And to have the ability to go to somewhere that is close will make sure that that service will be meaningful and provided," said Knik Tribal Council President Debra Call.

Thanks to federal funding, USDA Rural Development gave a $40 million loan to Southcentral Foundation from the Stimulus Act, investing in health care.

"It helps a rural population, in this case the native population, and the general health and wellbeing of rural residents is a priority of our agency," said USDA Rural Development Alaska Director Jim Nordlund.

Along with federal funding and other sources, the State of Alaska awarded $5 million for the center. Representing a portion of the Mat-Su Valley, Rep. Bill Stoltze (R-Chugiak) said the new primary care center fulfills the medical need for Alaska Natives.

"There's been a lot of demographic switch, some of it's natural growth, a lot of its in-migration of Alaska Native populations in the valley. Like all other folks, they see it's a great place to live, great place to raise your family, so it's not surprising that along with your regular population there's been a very significant growth in the Alaska Native population in the Mat Valley as well," said Rep. Stoltze.

Adding to the need of Mat-Su residents by cutting down waiting and commute times, the new facility practices the same Nuka system of care that Southcentral Foundation promotes in Anchorage by putting the patient in the driver's seat.

"Over the past 50 years, thanks to organization through funding of the Indian Health Service, like Southcentral Foundation, we have the type of quality health care that's recognized nationally and internationally," said Call.

Doors to the Valley Native Primary Care Center will open to customer-owners August 29th.

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