Because they are living in one of Alaska’s more remote communities, Kodiak Island residents are particularly dependent on local health care. Flying to mainland Alaska for treatment is expensive, time consuming and sometimes impossible in poor weather. So when a longtime primary care clinic closed after its owners retired, scores of patients would have been left without a primary health care provider.
That’s when Providence Health & Services Alaska stepped in. Thanks to $500,000 in funding, the Kodiak Community Health Center (KCHC) was able to reorganize and renovate its treatment space and increase its staff to help absorb patients from the recently closed Kodiak Island Medical Associates (KIMA). This generous effort exemplifies Providence’s Mission to serve those in need and be a comforting presence in the community.
“Without supporting the community health center in our community, we would have had more than 3,000 patients without primary care,” said Gina Bishop RN, MSN/ED, CEN, administrator at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center. “Our goal is to support the Kodiak community and ensure sustainable health care now and in the years to come.”
Judy Starrett was KIMA’s office manager for years until its owners retired. She is one of many KIMA employees who transitioned to Kodiak Community Health Center, where she now serves as billing and outreach specialist.
“The owners of KIMA wanted to make sure there were enough providers for the patients of this town, so it was a big decision for them to make,” she said. “With Providence funding the addition and adding more exam rooms, they can accommodate the amount of patients who are coming in for care.”
Additionally, she said, it is comforting for the new patients to see a familiar face.
“I sit near the front so I can hear people I know come in and I’ve been told, ‘it’s nice to see you here,’ ” she said. “It reassures them that they will still get great care,” she said.
In preparing for its influx of new patients, renovations were fast and efficient, Bishop said. It took one month to add additional examination rooms and physicians’ offices. An area that used to house a dental clinic also was converted to serve medical patients.
“The funds were used to complete the renovations within the clinic, the wages and costs for hiring physicians and mid-level providers along with additional office and clinic staff,” Bishop added.
Bishop said she is pleased with the transition thus far and credits the efficiently run KCHC with its success. While the primary goal was to serve those patients coming in from KIMA, other positive outcomes have emerged as well.
Bishop said KCHC uses the same electronic medical record as the hospital. This provides continuity of care if patients are admitted, which makes tracking patient health extremely accurate.
“Additionally, if patients need laboratory, imaging or other services provided by the hospital, they are located in the building for ease of patient access,” she added.
Starrett said while the learning curve is still in progress, eventually patients and staff will have an efficient and effective facility the community can depend upon. While Kodiak is a large island, it’s also a tight-knit community, with each looking out for the other.
“We’re really lucky that we have some really good primary care physicians in Kodiak, and we’re lucky through Providence to have the specialists who come here,” Starrett added. “It helps save patients time and money.”