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jim norlund

With USDA Support, A Health Center in Alaska’s Susitna Valley Celebrates a Grand Opening

On a beautiful, bright Sunday in August, members of the Alaska  USDA-Rural Development team met with the leadership of the new Sunshine Community Health Center and other funders to celebrate the grand opening of the new healthcare facility in Willow.  They were joined by members of the surrounding communities which this new clinic will serve, including Willow, Houston and Skwentna, Alaska.

The old healthcare building of some 1,400 square feet had grown outdated in both accommodations for staff and residents needing medical services.  The work space to provide private exams and perform much needed medical procedures was too small and no longer met the required protocols.

“The new building is a 6,800 square foot facility that houses six new exam rooms, allowing the clinic to expand and supply necessary healthcare expertise and services to the residents of the surrounding service area.  It will provide many new jobs ranging from entry-level support personnel to professional and bring higher levels of medical services,” said Rural Development Alaska State Director Jim Nordlund.

USDA Helps Improve Native Health Care in Rural Alaska

For most Americans, advanced health care facilities that can treat almost any kind of ailment are just a short drive away.  But picture you or a loved one in your rural community enduring a life-threatening illness or injury, and having to travel hundreds of miles for medical attention.  Compounding the issue are the often treacherous travel conditions during the winter months when remote roads are hazardous, and sometimes closed due to weather.

It’s no wonder that the community of Tazlina, Alaska, in the Copper River Valley, welcomed the recent groundbreaking ceremony for the Copper River Native Association’s new health care and administrative facility on a 10 acre site.  The project is a joint venture between USDA Rural Development through a Community Facilities direct loan; U.S. Housing and Urban Development and the State of Alaska. This new facility will replace the existing 40-year old scattered site facilities that were originally slated to be decommissioned or demolished in 1985.  The land has been provided by Ahtna, Incorporated, A Native regional corporation, on a 99 year lease.

Terrestrial Broadband Connects Native Communities in Southwest Alaska to the World for the First Time

Recently, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell hosted the first live terrestrial videoconference between the State Capital of Juneau and Bethel’s Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC), which administers a comprehensive health care delivery system for more than 50 rural, primarily Native communities in Southwest Alaska.  The videoconference utilized TERRA-Southwest which now provides terrestrial broadband service for the first time from Anchorage to 65 remote, rural communities in Bristol Bay and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Funding support was provided by USDA Rural Development through the Rural Utilities Service and the Recovery Act.

On the face of it, the news may not elicit much sensation, but let’s look at some facts.  The YKHC and those many, inaccessible villages are located in the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta, one of the largest river deltas in the world, and at 75,000 square miles it’s roughly the size of Oregon.  Can you imagine the immensity of not only planning, but the logistics in actually constructing the system that made today’s videoconference possible?

Who Will Get the First Bath?

Recently, I had the pleasure to travel to the rural Alaskan communities of Kwigillingok, Kasigluk, and Pitkas Point.  The visit was made along with Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Administrator Jonathan Adelstein, Alaska State Director Jim Nordlund, and a few of our major program partners.  As with other trips, the site visits to these communities were a reminder of why the Rural Alaska Village grant program and other Rural Development programs are so vital to rural communities.

The water and wastewater conditions in these three villages and other Alaskan communities are staggering. Drinking water is hauled from local watering points, which clearly do not meet safe drinking water standards.  Wastewater is hauled by utilizing honey buckets.  The same path that kids play and walk to and from school, is the same route that individuals routinely walk with their five gallon buckets  of wastewater to honey bucket transfer stations.

USDA Administrator Jonathan Adelstein Joins Tour of Rural Alaska Village Grant project sites

In what was some of the most beautiful weather Southwest Alaska had seen recently, USDA Administrator Jonathan Adelstein joined the USDA-Rural Development Alaska team to tour several rural communities including Manokotak, New Stuyahok, Kasigluk and Kwigillingok and Pitkas Point.  The site tours were part of viewing Rural Alaska Village Grant (RAVG) program projects USDA helped fund over the past few years.