The impact that the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s Dena’ina Wellness Center has had on the tribe and the Kenai Peninsula community was described at the Industry Outlook Forum in Kenai on Wednesday.
The session marked the first time the Kenaitze Indian Tribe spoke at the annual forum, which is attended by representatives of various industries including oil, gas and mining.
Speaking on behalf of the tribe, Jaylene Peterson-Nyren, executive director of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, said that while most of the other speakers were from oil, gas and mining backgrounds, the Kenaitze Indian Tribe deserved to be at the forum.
“Economically, we have brought a lot to the community,” Peterson-Nyren said.
The Dena’ina Wellness Center had its grand opening in Old Town Kenai in June 2014. It provides an array of services including medical, behavioral and wellness programs. The project was aided by numerous grants, sponsors and the Indian Health Service Joint Venture Award. The award provides the Dena’ina Wellness Center $10 million annually for a minimum of 20 years.
Peterson-Nyren said the Dena’ina Wellness Center may have been possible without the IHS Award, but it probably wouldn’t have the scope or number of services currently offered. The funds from the award support maintenance and operations of the facility.
The new health center has also provided the community with new employment opportunities. Peterson-Nyren said that of the 270 employees that work for the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, nearly half of them work at or with the Dena’ina Wellness Center. She said that the while the center is running smoothly, the tribe is still hoping to hire more employees including a new physician, dentist and optometrist.
Peterson-Nyren said that the Wellness center is seeing 30-40 new patients a month. She anticipates continued growth due to the Kenai Peninsula being attractive to a lot of Alaska Native people and the region’s current economic growth.
Before the construction of the Dena’ina Wellness Center, the Kenaitze Indian Tribe rented several facilities around the community to house medical practices. Now that the tribe has its own building with all of its medical services under one roof, it can allocate funds to other ventures.
With more funds available, the tribe has purchased an apartment complex adjacent to the Wellness Center in Kenai’s Old Town, expanded its services to include an on-site pharmacy and hopes to improve a center for the tribe’s elders.
The tribe also hopes that with more money, it will be able to invest.
“The overall goal is to not be so heavily reliant on state and federal grant funding and to be able to bring more cash back into our system to help our people,” Peterson-Nyren said.
Reach Ian Foley at firstname.lastname@example.org.