Seward council backs pursuit of funds by clinic for new facility

A mock-up of a new community health center to be located on First Avenue in Seward. (Illustration via City of Seward)

A mock-up of a new community health center to be located on First Avenue in Seward. (Illustration via City of Seward)

Members of the Seward City Council on Monday backed efforts by the Seward Community Health Center’s efforts to build a new community health clinic on First Avenue.

The organization has been planning for expansion for years, saying that it’s outgrown the space it currently shares with Providence Seward Medical Center. The two entities currently share a facility owned by the City of Seward. That’s according to a presentation prepared by the Seward Community Health Center for Monday’s city council meeting.

Although the current location of the center has provided a centralized space for primary, specialized and emergency care and allowed for the sharing of resources and referrals, space remains the top issue driving pursuit of expansion.

As the number of patients seeking services at the center have increased — the projected number for 2025 is triple that of the number from when the center opened in 2014 — the organization says it has outgrown the space it currently shares with Providence.

The efforts by Seward Community Health Center come as Chugachmiut, an Alaska Native nonprofit agency, works to open a new regional health center in Seward. That facility, which will be tribally owned and operated, is intended to serve as a regional hub for the communities of Port Graham, Chenega, Valdez, Nanwalek, Qutetcak, Eyak and Tatitlek.

A 2019 needs assessment found that the Seward Community Health Center lacks the capacity to adequately serve the number of patients seeking services, such as through the inefficient size and quality of exam rooms, patient conflation of the center with Providence and conflicts in scheduling spaces that the center shares with Providence, among others.

In looking to build a new facility, the organization’s presentation says “all viable options” were explored, including adding on to the existing facility, constructing a new clinic on the existing site or on an adjacent site. A new clinic was selected as the best path forward because it would give the clinic the space it needs, while still being close to Providence and the least disruptive to ongoing operations.

In all, the center estimates that the new facility — to be located at 431 and 501 First Ave. — and will cost about $20 million. They plan to build the facility without incurring any debt and estimate that $13 million will come from state and federal grants, while $2 million will come from foundation grants.

The remaining money has already been secured by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who announced in February the award of $5 million for the expansion of the center. That funding was part of almost $500 million worth of Congressionally Directed Spending for the federal Fiscal Year 2023, which ended on Sept. 30, 2023.

The organization estimates that the expansion will allow the center to transition their part-time staff to full-time positions, increase the number of staff overall by 12% and support team-based care, among other things. It will also grow the space available from 4,000 square feet to more than 20,000 square feet and double the number of exam rooms.

“We have been turning down new and expanded services due to space constraints,” a summary of the expansion prepared by the center says. “A new facility will decrease wait times and allow for the expansion of integrated primary care with behavioral health.”

More information about the planned expansion of Seward Community Health Center can be found on the organization’s website at sewardhealthcenter.org/newclinic.

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

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