City of Seward, Health

Lack of quorum cancels important council worksession

The Seward CHC sign announces the new federally-qualified community health center last March. Heidi Zemach file photo.
The Seward CHC sign announces the new federally-qualified community health center last March. Heidi Zemach file photo.

By Heidi Zemach for SCN –

What was to have been an important Seward City Council work session to explore in depth the pros and cons of expanding the Providence Seward Medical Center and Seward Community Health Center building Thursday afternoon, was cancelled after attendees discovered that they couldn’t get a quorum of council members to attend. It was a clear example of how busy local residents can get during the summer tourist season.

Mayor Jean Bardarson and Council member Marianna Keil were there at the 5:30 p.m. planned start time, and soon after began texting and phoning other council members. Eventually Council member Rissie Casagranda, a realtor and dance teacher appeared, but at around that time they also heard back from Councilmember Dale Butts that he was stuck in Anchorage. Council member Dave Squires was away fighting forest fires on the Kenai Peninsula.

Also present were City Manager Jim Hunt, Patrick Linton, the SCHC executive director, Joseph Fong, the Providence Seward administrator, Dick Cruz, the CHC board of directors’ president, and assistant city clerk Brenda Ballou. The city had provided two pages of information for the work session, along with sandwich wraps, veggies with dip, potato chips, and cheesecake. Others in attendance were Kenai Peninsula Borough Representative Sue McClure, Ballou’s niece, who was on her own city council in Oregon, and also this reporter.

Some of the council members had already spoken in opposition to the idea, partly because the city had been promised only a year or two ago, when the new clinic was being proposed, that the new federally-funded health clinic could fit comfortably into the existing building, and also because the clinic’s proposed $4-$8 million dollar expansion is so costly, and would compete with many other projects that the city has listed as its priorities such as boat harbor improvements, development of a new breakwater and related development at Seward Marine Industrial Center, a new building for the public works department, and maintenance at Lowell Creek Canyon.

Radiology Department Supervisor Sara McDonald in the spacious new trailer with the new 16-slice CT Scanner. Heidi Zemach photo.
Radiology Department Supervisor Sara McDonald poses in the trailer outside the hospital building with the new 16-slice CT Scanner. Heidi Zemach photo.

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The CHC board also had submitted a lengthy list of difficult questions for the city and council to consider answer in order to determine whether to go forward with a SCHC federal capital grant application of up to $1 million toward the total. Architects Alaska had already designed and presented a proposed building extension affecting both the clinic and the hospital.

Because the deadline to apply for the federal HRSA grant was so close, council had agreed to allow the SCHC to go forward with it, but had made clear by a resolution that the application could be withdrawn later, near the end of the summer, if the council wasn’t ready to make a decision, or had decided against the idea.

The SCHC proposes a building expansion from 3,900 sq. ft. to 7,000 sq. ft.  so that all of its functions, clinical and administrative, are met in a contiguous configuration; the number of exam rooms can be increased from six to eight, and at least one private consult room; the clinic has a separate entrance, waiting room and registration area; so the clinic can integrate a behavioral health component; so it can accommodate and expand specialty outreach clinics; and retain easy access to the ER, Radiology and Laboratory.

This prefab trailer was placed on the site to be used as additional office space for six staff at the new Seward CHC to make room inside for the new physicians.  Heidi Zemach photo.
This prefab trailer was placed on the site to be used as additional office space for six staff at the new Seward CHC to make room inside for the new physicians. Heidi Zemach photo.

The clinics two physicians and other medical providers don’t now have their own offices in the building in which to do their paperwork, and administrators had to move into a small prefabricated building across the parking lot in order to accommodate them, once they were finally hired.

PSMC would like to see the CT equipment relocated inside the facility (rather than in a van parked outside the ER); single occupancy inpatient rooms for greater privacy, infection control and capacity; rehab therapy space located closer to the patient care area; to optimize flows through public areas and public flow through patient care areas; additional office and storage space, and a procedural room for future services. Both believe the plans address existing needs but also allow for growth, and should meet their future needs for the next 10-15 years.

The first nine questions that the CHC board said needed to be addressed posed whether the option of a new, integrated healthcare campus is being seriously considered; whether it is a good idea to continue investing in the current location in light of the natural disaster scenarios (from Lowell Creek Dam) often mentioned; what possibilities exist for the hospital to allocate more of its current space to the clinic; if the clinic portion is expanded, how much of the hospital portion, which is directly related to the first, would be accomplished—and when?; what impacts would result from doing nothing?  And how the proposed projects would be funded?  For a more complete picture of the questions, see www.cityofseward.us/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=236.

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