Mat-Su

Medical director at Mat-Su community health center resigns amid investigation

A longtime Mat-Su community health provider with roots in Talkeetna is now without its top two executives after the resignation Friday of its medical director.

The Sunshine Community Health Center Inc. board last week terminated CEO Melody West following employee concerns voiced at an April meeting about the way she handled her job, including complaints about the medical director and potential patient safety issues.

The board in late May placed medical director Dr. George Hightower on leave as the board looked into employee issues raised in a confidential report submitted to the board last month.

Hightower submitted his resignation on Friday, according to interim CEO Randall Kowalke. No additional information was immediately available.

There are several viable candidates to replace Hightower already on staff, Kowalke said, adding that the center hopes to have a new medical director in place next week.

The board is in the process of finding a new CEO using a redesigned job description.

A number of people testified at an April board meeting about concerns regarding Sunshine’s operations, potential safety issues, and Hightower’s behavior, described by one nurse as bullying. Some said West failed to respond adequately to complaints about the medical director, who joined the staff in 2019.

The center started in Talkeetna in the 1980s through a grassroots effort to establish affordable health care for the remote communities of the upper Susitna Valley, far from the borough’s only hospital near Wasilla.

Now Sunshine operates clinics in Talkeetna, Willow and, most recently, Wasilla, where the private nonprofit corporation began serving patients in January.

The center employs about 100 people, among them nine medical providers including three doctors, plus four dentists and eight behavioral health specialists.

Over the past year, a time that brought fewer patients due to coronavirus restrictions, the clinics saw almost 4,000 people, nearly 1,200 of them at Wasilla even though that facility has only been open five months.

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