Chairs at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly chambers are decorated with paper cutouts on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, at the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building in Soldotna, Alaska. The cutouts were intended to represent Central Peninsula Hospital patients who died of COVID-19. During public testimony given Tuesday, several members of the public expressed the desire for alternative treatments for COVID-19 and protested CPH’s treatment methods. (Photo courtesy Katherine Uei)

Chairs at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly chambers are decorated with paper cutouts on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, at the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building in Soldotna, Alaska. The cutouts were intended to represent Central Peninsula Hospital patients who died of COVID-19. During public testimony given Tuesday, several members of the public expressed the desire for alternative treatments for COVID-19 and protested CPH’s treatment methods. (Photo courtesy Katherine Uei)

Assembly approves state health grant

The money was made available under a grant program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted Tuesday to accept a grant from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. The money, roughly $154,000, was made available under a grant program meant to support the creation of “healthy and equitable” communities in Alaska in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the total amount, $54,000 will be given to the Kenai Peninsula Homeless Coalition to “support homelessness facilities.” Use of the remaining funds has yet to be determined. A split assembly also narrowly voted to amend the legislation to give themselves final approval over the use of the remaining $100,000 funds.

“Approval of the assembly is prudent for spending any federal grant or COVID-19 related funding,” the amendment says.

Activities funded through DHSS’ grant program must have an emphasis on “high risk, underserved population groups,” according to a DHSS explanation of the grant program. Those activities and strategies may include expanding existing COVID-19 mitigation services to ensure adequate baseline care for high risk populations disproportionately affected by COVID, improving data collection and reporting for those disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, improving access to vaccines, or promoting healthy and equitable communities, among other things.

Those who opposed the amendment said that the legislation was sufficient as initially presented.

“This is federal pass-thru dollars coming to the borough through the state,” said assembly member Richard Derkevorkian, who represents Kenai. “I don’t see the need for us to babysit every $10 that the administration wants to spend to address the COVID crisis.

Cox said that while his amendment gives final approval of spending to the assembly, borough administration will remain responsible for suggesting the use of funds.

The cities of Kenai and Soldotna also received funds through the program. The City of Soldotna plans to use their approximately $50,000 to create a mobile recreation program, while the City of Kenai wants to construct a boardwalk near the Kenai Peninsula Community Care Center.

“If what the mayor wants to bring forward is something that the assembly wants, then that will happen,” Cox said.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce said the amendment made an exception for the grant acceptance process because there was “an interest” in making sure remaining funds would be used for COVID-19 tests and not for COVID-19 treatments. Pierce said more at-home COVID test kits are expected to arrive next month and said kits are currently available in pharmacies and by some employers.

In the audience during Tuesday’s assembly meeting were paper cutouts propped up in chairs, which were intended to represent Central Peninsula Hospital patients who died of COVID-19, according to Katherine Uei, who also testified during the meeting.

Uei was one of three people who criticized during public testimony given Tuesday CPH’s treatment of COVID-19 patients. She said her mother-in-law was represented by one of the cutouts and that a request for alternative treatments was made for her mom prior to her death.

“We begged the hospital to do alternative care,” Uei said.

Assembly member Lane Chesley, who represents Homer, pushed back on criticism of the peninsula’s hospitals and suggested concerns be redirected to the hospital board of directors, of which he is a former member for South Peninsula Hospital.

“I’m going to stick up for the hospital a little bit here,” Chesley said. “I believe that our hospitals are trying to do the best that they can. But we also know that anything that’s a human endeavor, is imperfect and we’re on a steep learning curve.”

Multiple assembly members also spoke candidly about their recent experiences with COVID-19, including Chesley, who said he recently lost a family member to COVID. Assembly member Jesse Bjorkman attended Tuesday’s meeting remotely, which he said is because he was out of town to attend the funeral of his uncle who recently died from COVID.

A video recording of the assembly’s Jan. 4 meeting of the finance committee was not available as of 7:45 p.m. on Wednesday. The assembly’s Tuesday meeting can be viewed in full on the borough’s website at kpb.us.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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