RIGGING IN THE RAIN – Spencer Severson works on trolling gear this afternoon aboard his sailboat, the F/V Dryas, in ANB Harbor. The Sitka Sound commercial spring troll season opened June 16. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced today that the Sitka Sound fishery has been extended and will now close at 11:59 p.m. June 21. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Sitka Hospital Shifts Surgery to SEARHC

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer
    Sitka Community Hospital will suspend all scheduled and emergency surgeries, effective Feb. 28, the hospital announced today.
    “For several months, the city has been negotiating with Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium to take over the delivery of all health care services currently provided at SCH,” the hospital said in its news release. “The decision to terminate surgery is a result of the city’s mandate to limit operating expenses during negotiations of the final agreement with SEARHC, and also staff departures.”
    In the announcement, hospital CEO Rob Allen said Sitka Community Hospital will continue offering minor surgical procedures at Mountainside Family Healthcare, the hospital’s outpatient clinic.
    “We are 100 percent committed to maintaining our high standards of care as long as SCH remains in existence and will avoid any conditions that could conceivably jeopardize patient safety,” Allen said.
    He said employee departures have created challenges in fully staffing the community hospital’s programs, and hiring traveling staff for very short-term contracts is both difficult and expensive.
    “Suspending the surgery program will allow us to use our resources to support core services, including non-surgical emergency room care, long-term care, acute care and rehabilitation,” he said.
    He said the hospital will work closely with SEARHC to ensure that community members who have surgeries scheduled after February “will receive timely care at Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital.”
    Assembly member Kevin Knox said he hadn’t heard the news.
    “I think it’s yet another indication the health care market is a tough place for small rural hospitals to survive on their own,” he said.
    Knox’s late father, David Knox, was a surgical nurse and surgical coordinator at Sitka Community until his death in 2005 at age 59. One of the surgical suite rooms at SCH is named after him, in honor of his more than 20 years of service to the hospital.
    “It makes it a lot more emotional for me, for sure,” Kevin Knox said.
    He noted that his father also worked at Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital before going to work at Sitka Community.
    “He used to talk about how having two surgical suites in Sitka was a difficult challenge,” Kevin Knox said. He cited “personnel and competition in a small town” among the issues.
    City Administrator Keith Brady said he was not surprised by the announcement given the personnel challenges at SCH, and “perceived inevitability of Sitka Community not lasting beyond July 1.”
    For more than a year, city, Sitka Community and SEARHC leaders have been negotiating toward a single health care system in Sitka. The details are still being worked out on how much SEARHC will pay SCH for its health care business, limitation of the city’s accumulated liability to the state retirement system, a transition plan, the role of a Sitka advisory committee in the operation of the Alaska Native-owned SEARHC hospital, and retention of Sitka Community employees.
    SEARHC has said it plans to build a new clinic, nursing care facility and hospital next to the present Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital on Japonski Island.

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