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Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium secures funding for new patient housing

Tegan Hanlon
An architect's rendering of the 170-room patient and family housing facility at the Alaska Native Medical Center. A skybridge over Tudor Centre Drive will connect the housing to the hospital. Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium secured funding this week for a large new patient housing facility in Anchorage that will provide rooms for people traveling far from home for health care.

To finance the 170-room building, the state on Tuesday sold nearly $31 million in long-term debt, or certificates of participation, to investors. It will lend the proceeds to the consortium in the hope that the additional housing will increase the rate of health care delivery and drive down Alaska’s Medicaid costs, Deven Mitchell, the state's debt manager, wrote in an email.

If an Alaska Native or American Indian is enrolled in Medicaid and receives health care outside the tribal health system, the state and federal government split the cost. If the person stays in the system, the federal government covers the bill.

“This housing will provide an incentive and mechanism to keep Medicaid patients in the tribal health system rather than moving outside the system,” Mitchell wrote.

The Legislature set the stage to finance the housing project in 2013 when it passed Senate Bill 88. The bill authorized the debt sale and provided that the building’s title will stay in the state’s name until the consortium repays the loan. It has 15 years to do so. 

Fiona Brosnan, a spokesperson for the consortium, said a sky bridge will connect the new building to the Alaska Native Medical Center off East Tudor Road. Construction is expected to begin in May 2015, and the building should be completed by summer 2016, she said.

Andy Teuber, president and chairman of the consortium, said an additional 30 rooms on the building's sixth floor will be reserved for pregnant mothers. 

"ANMC is busier than it has ever been, and we are constantly seeking the means for improved access," he said. 

Teuber said the Alaska Native Medical Center serves 143,000 Alaska Natives and American Indians, with more than half its patients traveling from outside Anchorage. 

The hospital already has one housing building next door, called the Quyana House, which has 54 semi-private rooms. The consortium also contracts with local hotels for space. Teuber said that at any given time it has between 100 and 150 rooms booked in the community.

Still, demand exceeds supply, according to the consortium's 2013 business plan. 

“A lack of supportive housing limits our ability to provide meaningful access to the very best care to our our patients and their families,” the plan says. “Patients may delay care or not complete their recommended plan of care due to a simple lack of housing.”

A statement from the consortium says the new housing is critical for expectant mothers with high-risk pregnancies, cancer patients who need infusion and radiation therapy, and children and elders.

Numerous tribal organizations wrote letters of support for Senate Bill 88, reiterating the ways in which housing close to the hospital would enhance health care.

“Campus housing for the tribal health system will ease the anxiety of elders who must travel into a large, strange city, especially those for whom English is a second language,” wrote Paula Vrana, chief executive officer of the Copper River Native Association, in 2013. “With kitchen facilities, extended family will be able to visit and share traditional foods.”

According to the business plan, the new building will host shared kitchens, a gathering area and in-room sleeper sofas for escorts.

The bond closing is scheduled for mid-September.