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High hopes for new Cold Bay medical clinic

Jillian RogersThe Arctic Sounder

New medical faclities for the Alaska Peninsula community of Cold Bay could be under construction as soon as 2015, now that design and cost estimates are almost completed.

The new clinic will provide emergency and primary care for residents of Cold Bay, False Pass, Nelson Lagoon and other surrounding villages. Cold Bay also serves as the regional center for air transportation on the Peninsula and Aleutian Chain, and has the third longest public runway in Alaska. The village frequently serves as the medical evacuation center in emergency situations, transferring patients from neighboring villages and the Bering Sea commercial fishing fleet to Anchorage or Seattle.

Currently, the Anna Livingston Memorial Clinic in Cold Bay is the facility that facilitates these medevacs and offers primary care, but the facility, built in 1983 of Styrofoam and concrete has "exceeded its useful life," said Anne Bailey, the development coordinator for the Aleutians East Borough.

Besides the sound issues that require staff to play white noise to ensure privacy, the roofs flops around in high wind, forcing staff at times to leave the building.

The condition of the clinic actually deters residents from utilizing it as a primary care facility, wrote Bailey in a report.

Along with the deteriorating structure, the equipment used is outdated, up to 30 years old. The x-ray machine was first put into use in 1983.

"Having an updated x-ray machine, as well as other equipment, will increase the health care provider's ability to offer the necessary care to patients with the best equipment available," Bailey said.

Temporary fixes to the current clinic have proven difficult, if not impossible, because the building is in a "restricted visibility zone" deemed such by the Federal Aviation Administration. The restriction prohibits repairs, especially to the roof, and, if the FAA decides to enforce all the regulations, the health clinic would have be relocated. Without a new facility to move into, said Bailey, patients would be left out in the cold, with no medical facility in the town.

"They're just going to make it work for the time being," said AEB administrator Rick Gifford of the current clinic. "We're still working on funding for construction."

The new 3,640 square-foot facility, will house a heated ambulance bay, trauma room, exam rooms, x-ray capability, laboratory, morgue and pharmacy area along with other, non-clinical spaces.

"The AEB, City of Cold Bay and Eastern Aleutian Tribes recognize the shortcomings of the current facility and have formed a partnership to develop a design and to construct a new facility in Cold Bay," wrote Bailey.

The group received money from the Denali Commission in the spring of 2012 and got money to produce a design. Larsen Consulting Group was hired to complete that design.

Currently, the 95 percent design and a $4,800,000 cost estimate (this estimate is for the 65 percent design) ... has been completed.

Gifford and Bailey were optimistic that the final, fully completed design and cost estimate would be finished in the coming weeks.

"As far as I know Cold Bay supports it," said Gifford, adding that even for non-residents on their way to Anchorage for medical attention, a new clinic would be "a nice place to be taken care of until the flight out."

The site for the new clinic is on a lot leased by the state close to the site of the future apron to make transporting patients awaiting medevac easier.

From 2009 to 2011, the Cold Bay clinic was involved in 45 various medevac situations.

This article was originally published in The Bristol Bay Times and is reprinted here with permission.