Tribal Behavioral Health Directors meet with Senate committee members: The Tribal Behavioral Health Directors met on Friday, Feb. 17, with members of the Alaska Senate Health and Social Services Committee, including Sen. Bettye Davis, Chair, and Sen. Dennis Egan. Melody Price-Yonts of SEARHC (the chair of the Tribal Behavioral Health Directors) and Michael Horton of Copper River Native Association introduced the Tribal Behavioral Health Directors and provided an overview of the group’s role, including current challenges in disproportionality (suicide, substance use, domestic violence and sexual assault). The group discussed how it partners with the State of Alaska and Alaska Mental Health Trust in the areas of tribal consultation, Medicaid funding topics; the Bring the Kids Home initiative; workforce development and the Behavioral Health Aide/Practitioner program. The group pointed out the benefits for the state in working with tribal behavioral health in that it provides culturally relevant services, the access of Indian Health Service funds and Medicaid reimbursement at 100 percent. The group also advised that it needs to collaborate to be more effective and efficient in the areas of billing and data. The group encouraged support for the state plan amendment for the Behavioral Health Aides/Practitioners, which upon approval by CMS will allow for 100 percent FMAP (Federal Medical Assistance Percentages) funding for all Behavioral Health Aide/Practitioner encounters — a significant increase in source of revenue for tribal behavioral health.
State investigates paralytic shellfish poisoning case in Ketchikan: Southeast Alaska residents are reminded about the dangers of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) in certain types of shellfish after a Ketchikan man reported PSP symptoms last week. The man reported harvesting butter clams on Sunday, Feb. 19, from Refuge Cove State Park, and then he steamed and ate them on Monday, Feb. 20, after letting them pump out for a day. He ate two clams at first, then after waiting and feeling fine, he ate a dozen or so total. He woke up early Tuesday morning with tingling in his fingers, numbness around the mouth and a euphoric feeling. He did not report nausea, vomiting, vision changes, ataxia, weakness or other common symptoms of PSP. The man still had clams left over from his meal, which are being tested, and the state office of epidemiology advised he should be seen by a health care professional. This case of PSP should serve as a reminder that the state does not recommend eating certain types of any subsistence or recreationally harvested shellfish from Southeast Alaska beaches because they are not tested for PSP toxin. This past year has been especially active for PSP in the southern part of Southeast Alaska, in particular in Ketchikan and Metlakatla where this summer saw some of the highest levels of PSP toxin ever recorded. There also were cases of PSP reported in November and December in Metlakatla, the first the state has recorded for those months. PSP can cause severe health problems and even death, and there is no antidote. PSP generally affects bivalves that filter food when they eat, such as clams, cockles, mussels, oysters or scallops. Crab meat does not carry the PSP toxin, but crab guts can have the toxin since crab eat bivalves. To learn more about PSP, go to http://searhc.org/publications/featured_stories/2011_06_psp.php.
SEARHC WISEWOMAN Women’s Health Program hosts American Heart Month events: The SEARHC WISEWOMAN Women’s Health Program partnered with Sitka Community Hospital and others to host a couple of heart disease awareness events this week for American Heart Month. They teamed up with the Sitka and Mt. Edgecumbe high school girls basketball teams to host the fourth annual “Pack the Gym Red and Pink” game on Friday, Feb. 24, to promote heart disease (red) and breast cancer (pink) awareness. Fans are encouraged to dress up in red, pink or both, and the proceeds from the game will benefit the Sitka Cancer Survivors’ Society. They also teamed up with the Hames Athletic and Wellness Center to help with the Hames open house and heart-friendly Sitka Fine Hearts Camp event from 4-6 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 26. This free two-hour event celebrates the first year of the reopening of Hames, while also providing lots of heart-healthy information and activities. Other partners include SEARHC Health Promotion, the Sitka Fire Hall, Sitka Physical Therapy, local massage therapists and others.
‘1 is 2 Many’ suicide prevention task force holds quarterly meeting: On Friday, Feb. 24, I had a chance to meet with the “1 is 2 Many” suicide prevention task force for Southeast Alaska that is coordinated by the SEARHC Behavioral Health/Suicide Prevention Program. The task force met Friday in Juneau for its quarterly meeting, which included updates on the Walk for Life event, a discussion of the Grant Lee Smith youth suicide prevention grant, a discussion of the Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant, and a discussion of our upcoming media campaign. Many of the task force members and other Juneau residents also participated in a two-day Gatekeeper suicide prevention training on Wednesday and Thursday. Suicide is a big problem in Alaska, especially in rural Alaska, and it ranks as the fifth most common cause of death in the state with about 130 a year in Alaska. I am excited to see some of the work of this group as it develops a regional suicide prevention plan that can be taken back into all of our communities.
Kake WISEFAMILIES traditional foods program jams it up: The WISEFAMILIES Through Customary and Traditional Knowledge program in Kake hosted a series of low-sugar jam-making events on Feb. 14 and 22. The group made jam for 30 elders at the Honoring Our Elders dinner, plus it made jam for 50-plus people at the Peace of Kake Café and jam for another 50-plus people through the Kake Senior Center lunch program. The jammers used raspberries picked and frozen last summer, providing 30 half-pint jars of low-sugar raspberry jam for the Honoring our Elders dinner and providing three pints of low-sugar strawberry/raspberry jam for the senior center lunch program and three pints for the Peace of Kake Café lunch program at the Presbyterian Church. Participants learned about the different amounts of sugar in jam and how low sugar levels can help people better taste the fruit and avoid diabetes. They also learned Tlingít words for several types of local berries. The WISEFAMILIES program also hosts regular crafts nights, and the participants are learning the Tlingít words for various craft items as they make regalia or do beading. For American Heart Month during February, the group also provided crafts night participants with books about how to take care of the heart and how to improve your health by walking.
Health care costs continue to grow in Alaska: Last week, Dr. Ward Hurlburt, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services chief medical officer, briefed legislators about the rising costs of providing health care in Alaska. Using figures developed for the Alaska Health Care Commission by the University of Alaska Anchorage Institute for Social and Economic Research, Dr. Hurlburt told legislators that Alaska has the highest average annual cost of employee health benefits in the nation at $11,926 per employee. That figure is twice what employers in some other states pay. Between 2003 and 2010, the share of health benefits paid by employees increased from 17 percent to 22 percent. It also means many employers are having to reduce or eliminate some of their employee health benefits. The percentage of Alaska employers offering benefits dropped from 35 percent to 30 percent from 2003 to 2010, and the average insurance premium for families climbed 35 percent during the same period to an average premium cost of $14,230 in 2010. Alaska insurance premiums are 30 percent higher than most of the comparison states (in 2010 the annual insurance cost for a family in Alaska was $1,817 compared to $1,413 in Washington). Nationally, insurance premiums increased 160 percent from 1999-2011, and workers’ contributions to premiums rose 168 percent (compared to a 50-percent rise in earnings and overall inflation of 38 percent). These increases are unsustainable, especially when you consider that the $7.5 billion spent on health care in Alaska was roughly half the amount paid in wages.
U.S. Congress approves temporary Medicare fix: On Friday, Feb. 17, the U.S. House (293-132) and Senate (60-36) passed a payroll tax extension bill that included a temporary fix to Medicare. If this bill hadn’t passed by the end of February, then a planned 27-percent cut to Medicare provider payments was supposed to take place. These cuts are called the Sustainable Growth Rate, which is a formula that ties reimbursement rates to economic growth. The cut now will be put on hold until the end of the fiscal year, when the SGR will again need to be dealt with. The cuts would have a big impact on our budgets because of Alaska’s higher costs of providing medical services.
Just a reminder …
Spring mobile mammogram van schedule announced: The SEARHC WISEWOMAN Women’s Health Program and Bartlett Regional Hospital have announced the Spring 2012 schedule for the mobile mammogram program. The mobile mammography van will visit Kake on May 1-4, Haines on May 9-22, Angoon on May 24-30, Skagway on June 4-7, Yakutat on June 13-18, and Gustavus on June 22 (no weekend appointments). Women are encouraged to contact their local clinics prior to the scheduled visit because they will need to receive a clinical breast exam before they can get their mammograms. The mobile mammography program is run through a partnership between Bartlett Regional Hospital and the SEARHC WISEWOMAN Women’s Health Program. It makes regular mammography screening services available to women who live in communities where they aren’t available year round. The SEARHC WISEWOMAN Women’s Health Program provides free clinical breast exams, mammograms, Pap tests and cardiovascular screenings for all women ages 40 and older who meet income and insurance guidelines. For more information, contact your local clinic, call the SEARHC WISEWOMAN Women’s Health Program in Sitka at 966-8782 (or 1-888-388-8782, toll-free in Alaska), or send e-mail to email@example.com. For more information about services available through the SEARHC WISEWOMAN Women’s Health Program, go to http://www.searhc.org/womenshealth/.
SEARHC patient advocates serve as customer liaisons: SEARHC has three patient advocates in Southeast Alaska — Bryan Whitson (Sitka), Ashley Hunt (Juneau) and Cyndi Reeves (POW) — who serve as customer service liaisons between patients and SEARHC, and help patients navigate their way through SEARHC’s health system. SEARHC and the Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) share an Anchorage-based patient advocate, who serves SEARHC and KANA patients receiving care at the Alaska Native Medical Center (the SEARHC/KANA position currently is under recruitment and patients can call the Alaska Native Medical Center Customer Experience Department at 729-3990 until it is filled). Patients living in Sitka, Angoon, Kake, Pelican, Tenakee Springs, Yakutat, Petersburg and Wrangell should contact Bryan Whitson at 966-8860. Patients in Juneau, Haines, Skagway, Klukwan and Hoonah should contact Ashley Hunt at 463-6656. Patients in Klawock, Craig, Hydaburg, Kasaan, Thorne Bay and other POW communities should contact Cyndi Reeves at 755-4983 (965-0040, cell). Patients traveling to Anchorage for care should contact the patient advocate at 729-3992 (942-5867, cell).
2012 Ethel Lund Village Health Occupations Program (VHOP) applications available: Each year, SEARHC selects several Southeast-area Native students interested in health careers for the Ethel Lund Village Health Occupations Program (VHOP), and the students spend a week at S’áxt’ Hít Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka learning about different health careers and educational requirements. The health field is growing, which means plenty of job opportunities for people with the right training. Health careers usually offer good pay and employee benefits, as well as the satisfaction of helping others. This year's VHOP session is scheduled for April 24-27, with travel dates being April 23 and 28. Students selected to participate in VHOP receive assistance to cover the travel costs to and from Sitka, housing, meals and some evening entertainment. The application deadline is Friday, March 23. Completed applications may be mailed to Jessika Beam, SEARHC Tribal Recruitment Coordinator, c/o Human Resources Department, 222 Tongass Drive, Sitka, AK 99835. Applications also can be faxed to 966-8527, or scanned and e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, contact Jessika at 966-8903 in Sitka. Because space is limited, interested students should apply early. Application packets are available at high school offices, at local village corporations or by going to http://www.searhc.org/students/vhop.php.
SEARHC hosts 24/7 crisis help line, toll-free at 1-877-294-0074: A personal or family crisis doesn’t always happen during clinic hours, so the SEARHC Behavioral Health Division has contracted with a crisis call center to provide help for Southeast Alaska residents when they need it most. The SEARHC Help Line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it will be staffed with a team of master’s-degree-level mental health therapists who will listen and provide effective, compassionate care. This line provides confidential telephone counseling for people during a time of mental health crisis, and it is not just an answering service. The counselors will assess the situation and provide appropriate intervention using protocols developed with SEARHC Behavioral Health. Follow-up calls from SEARHC Behavioral Health or our partner agencies will be made the next business day. For more information, contact SEARHC Behavioral Health/Suicide Prevention Program Manager Wilbur Brown at 966-8753.
Charles Clement SEARHC President/CEO