A resolution will come before the Seward City Council tonight to approve the sale of land on the City’s Ft. Raymond property to Chugachmiut, the Tribal consortium which serves the seven Native communities in the state’s Chugach region. If sold, the 3.31-acre parcel of land would become the site of the Chugachmiut Regional Health Center, an estimated $18 million facility serving Native populations throughout the region, as well as area veterans.
The new facility would replace the North Star Health Clinic, currently located at 201 Third Avenue, which is in a tsunami flood zone. Apart from the obvious urgency to relocate the healthcare facility on safer ground, the current needs of the community have outgrown North Star’s capacity.
“We just want to be able to increase our staffing package and open our access and serve the Alaska Natives and American Indians in Seward with support services from preventative health to chronic illness and diseases,” said Chugachmiut Health Services Director Kelley Baker.
The Chugachmiut proposal to buy the land first came before Council in January and was sent to the Planning and Zoning Commission for evaluation. After reaching Council again in March, it was again sent to the Commission for further study and a clearer delineation regarding the division of the land, along with a resolution outlining the sale.
The proposed 15,000 square foot structure would occupy the southernmost undeveloped land parcel of the current Ft. Raymond property. Approximately 48 permanent healthcare positions will be required to staff the facility, necessitating the creation of 28 new positions, which would in turn bolster the local economy directly through spending revenue, and also create another .30 jobs per employee in other businesses as a result of that revenue, potentially resulting in over 36 total additional jobs. Further revenue would be generated for the City in the form of water, sewer and electric utilities. Providence Seward Medical Center would also see increased revenue from referrals for services such as radiology, for which Chugachmiut is unequipped.
“Taking a look at the economic needs of Seward, it’d be a win-win,” Baker said. “Out of our region we just felt this was most in alignment and in goals with what the City of Seward is looking for with their economic development, as well as recruiting full-time or long-term healthcare professionals to Seward.”
Baker went on to outline several ways in which the proposed facility aligns to the Seward Economic Development Plan’s goals and objectives, from supporting its Native population to developing and expanding the land and existing public institutions. The most noteworthy benefit, and arguably one that cannot be countered by mere monetary concerns, is the benefit to the health of the community. Native peoples constitute the city’s second largest population, and Indian Health Services (IHS) beneficiaries have historically suffered health disparities versus non-Native populations.
“Whereas we proudly celebrate the cultural and linguistic accomplishments of our state’s first residents, we are not blind to the consideration health challenges faced by these same people,” wrote Sen. Lisa Murkowski in her letter of support for Chugachmiut. “The Indian Health Service Joint Venture Construction Program is one of those bold programs that strive to reverse these health disparities. Consistent with all relevant rules, laws, and regulations, I respectfully request that all due consideration be given to this application.”
These disparities require expanded services addressing public health nursing, substance abuse, tobacco prevention and social services. Health Services Director Baker stated that affordable access to these services is crucial for its beneficiaries.
“We bill your insurances but then we write off the rest,” Baker said. “When you’re a beneficiary, and you can prove eligibility, you don’t have to pay for those services when you receive those services through the Tribal system.”
The total size of the Ft. Raymond property comprises 11 acres, and the City will allocate at least 3.47 acres to Public Works, with potential uses still undetermined for the remaining acreage. Discussion arose at past Council meetings about dividing up the remaining land and opening the parcels to bids, but the land is currently zoned as Institutional, and could not be occupied by commercial interests or lodging facilities.
Already well beyond its initial Jan. 28 ruling deadline, Chugachmiut is anticipating a definitive ruling at Monday’s meeting, allowing time for an in-depth land survey before their targeted groundbreaking date in June. If approved, the land will be sold at appraised market value. Funding for further phases of the project will be provided in part by a highly competitive IHS Joint Venture Construction Program. The Regional Health Center was one of five projects chosen by IHS for the program.
“We pay for the build of the facility out of non-IHS funds,” Baker said. “Then we go into a 20-year staffing, operations and maintenance agreement with IHS. It could bring approximately 28 full-time employees to Seward and a staffing package for the next 20 years. Of course those staff members that live and work in Seward are contributing to local businesses, paying local taxes, and we just feel that it’s a win-win for both Chugachmiut, the beneficiaries, and the City of Seward.”
Thus far Chugachmiut has received letters of support from legislators at both the state and national levels, in addition to support from various tribal leaders. A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. at tonight's meeting.