Alaska tribal health organization is building a $70 million skilled nursing facility to meet demands of an aging population

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium is building a $70 million skilled nursing facility to help relieve pressure at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.

Along with a separate project that’s also underway, the $257 million expansion of emergency care services at the Native hospital, the nursing facility will help the consortium meet increased demand for care as Alaska’s population continues to age, consortium representatives said.

The projects are the consortium’s largest investment since its creation in the 1990s, said Natasha Singh, interim president and chief executive of the consortium. The medical center, off Tudor Road in the city’s University-Medical District, opened in 1997, replacing the previous Native hospital downtown.

In the years since, the Alaska Native population has grown by 70,000 people, Singh said. It’s also getting older like the rest of Alaska and the U.S., she said. Those factors require more medical care.

“We refer to this as the ‘gray tsunami’ of all of our elders that are coming to age in increasing numbers,” she said. “We’re so grateful for that, but it puts a challenge on our infrastructure.”

The plans for the short-term skilled nursing facility call for construction of a two-story, 92,000-square-foot building, completed by summer 2026, the consortium said in a statement. The facility will house about 80 beds at Elmore Road and Ambassador Drive, where groundwork to prepare for construction has begun. Construction will start in earnest in the coming months, the statement says.

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Skilled nursing facilities support patients who no longer need hospital-level services, yet still require advanced care from nurses and other providers. It provides rehabilitation and treatment until a patient is ready to return home, such as for someone who needs physical or speech therapy after a severe car accident or a recent surgery or illness.

Alaska has the fewest skilled nursing beds in the U.S., per capita, according to the tribal health consortium.

The new skilled-nursing facility will help alleviate demand at the center, Singh said.

The hospital is too often on “divert status,” meaning it’s at full capacity, prompting a search for beds in other Alaska hospitals, or even outside the state, she said.

It’s an issue Providence Alaska and Alaska Regional Hospital also sometimes face, she said.

“On any given day, we have 20 to 35 patients at ANMC that are well enough to leave the hospital but not quite well enough to go home,” she said. “The skilled nursing facility will be that place where those patients can go to that will free up those beds and allow flow-through.”

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The facility will include an occupational and physical rehabilitation area, public and private dining areas, a chapel, and an outdoor courtyard, among other services, the consortium said.

It will provide “a residential-like living experience” near clinical services and patient housing, said Shea Siegert, a spokesperson with the consortium, in an email.

Angela Lewis is the administrator of two skilled nursing facilities for Providence Alaska, the extended care and transitional care centers in Anchorage near DeBarr Road and Boniface Parkway.

There’s a shortage of skilled nursing beds in Alaska as the state’s population ages, she said.

“I can share that we’re always full and we get calls all the time,” she said, including from hospitals in rural hub communities looking for extra skilled nursing beds to transfer Alaska Native patients, she said.

The new facility that the tribal health consortium plans to build will help alleviate some of that strain at health care centers around Alaska, she said.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy recently vetoed $15 million that would have supported the construction of the nursing facility, citing the need to “preserve general funds for savings and fiscal stability.”

“The Dunleavy administration would need additional information on the project’s scope and funding before deciding to invest significant state general funds in a project this size,” said Jeff Turner, the governor’s spokesman, in an email.

The consortium was disappointed by the veto, but it won’t interrupt construction, Singh said.

“ANTHC will draw from its limited budget reserves to keep this crucial project on track,” she said. “As the tribal health system’s statewide referral hospital, we know how important these services are to the health of the Alaskans we serve.”


Earlier this year, the tribal health consortium also launched a $257 million project to expand emergency services at the Native Medical Center.

The 182-bed hospital has less than half the beds of the 400-bed Indian Health Services facility it replaced in 1997.

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Plans for the emergency services expansion call for a first phase with a three-floor addition to the hospital that will include 21 more emergency rooms, expanded behavioral health treatment and surgery recovery areas, and an updated ambulance bay, according to a statement from the consortium.

A second phase calls for three additional floors atop the first section as the hospital pursues additional funding for the project, the statement says. It will include 60 new inpatient beds and the first helipad at the hospital for trauma services.

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Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or