Rural Alaska

Tribal health organization ready to renovate Bethel hospital and build new clinic

BETHEL – Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp., a tribally managed health agency, says almost all the pieces are now in place for a major renovation of its Bethel hospital and construction of a new primary care clinic.

YKHC announced Friday it signed a joint venture agreement earlier in the week with the Indian Health Service that secures funding for additional health care staff in the new, bigger space. That assurance was one of the final steps in a series of measures needed for the Dr. Paul John Calricaraq Project, named for the late tribal leader from Toksook Bay. Calricaraq is Yup'ik for "to live a healthy life." This year's Cama-i Dance Festival in Bethel on Friday was being dedicated to Paul John.

The nearly $300 million-project includes a new 188,000-square-foot primary care clinic, renovation of the existing 105,000-square-foot hospital and new staff housing.

The agreement is expected to double IHS funding for staff and operations by 2025 from the current year's $73 million, YKHC said. The organization intends to hire hundreds more health care employees in the region.

The tribal agency is planning on construction loans from the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank Authority and the rural development lending service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA Rural Development commitment to $165 million in low-interest loans is the largest of that type by the agency nationwide.

State legislators in 2015 changed the law to allow regional health organizations access to low-interest bonds through the municipal bond authority, and YKHC anticipates a $102.5 million loan from it.

YKHC's executive board has approved a plan for the project. Further design work is expected to begin soon and last four months. A groundbreaking is tentatively planned for this summer.