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CAIHC expansion shifts Native health landscape in the Interior

CAIHC Expansion.jpg

A new wing at Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center opened in Fairbanks this week. The expansion adds a 3-story, 108,000-square-foot addition to the existing Native Health clinic, making specialized health care closer for village residents, particularly elders, in the Interior.

Tanana Chiefs Conference has been the health-services provider for Alaska Natives in the Interior since the late 1970s. At the ceremony to open the new wing on Tuesday, TCC Chief Brian Ridley recalled the history of Native health care in Fairbanks.

“I hear our elders talk about how we started in the bowling alley.”

TCC took up residence on two floors of Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and named the space after Chief Andrew Isaac of Dot Lake. But eventually the need outgrew that space. And in 2012, a new, $72 million building opened up across the street from the hospital. Now, another building will allow new services and the expansion of existing ones. Ridley listed them.

“Urgent care, lab, radiology and our specialty services, the ambulatory surgery center, ophthalmology, audiology and hematology/ oncology.”

Brian Ridley
TCC President Brian Ridley stands in front of Raven relief embedded into the new clinic building.

New services will be phased in over the next year. The third floor of the new building is still unfinished to provide for future expansion.

Built in to the design and concept of the expansion is Athabascan culture. Dr. Charlene Stern thanked the group of elders and staff who incorporated culture into the physical spaces and artwork of the building.

“To us, this isn't just more floor space. It's to carry on a tradition of our people taking care of our people. It was really important to the cultural committee that this expansion represent that long history of care and love in our communities,” she said.

Trimble Gilbert of Arctic Village, First Traditional Chief, offered the Lord’s Prayer in Gwi’chin, and blessed the new building.

TCC serves 41 villages as well as clients in Fairbanks in a giant service region covering more than a third of Alaska. WEB: The tribal consortium made up of 42 members – including 39 villages and 37 federally recognized tribes. The region covers 235,000 square miles between the Alaska Range and the Brooks Range, equal to about 37 percent of the entire state, and just slightly smaller than the state of Texas. All Indian Health Services beneficiaries can be treated at Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center.

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Cheyenna Kuplack
Courtesy TCC
Health staff members were consulted before construction on workplace design and cultural sensitivity in plans for clinic expansion.

As part of the ceremony, dirt brought from member villages was placed on young birch trees in the open garden area between clinic buildings.

“Today this soil will finally be returned to the earth, on our property,” Ridley said.

Tribal members in formal regalia listen to dedication speeches at the opening of the CAIHC expansion, Tuesday, July 19, 2022.

Andy Jimmie, Second Traditional Chief, thanked the member tribes for their investment and support. He said when he first started at TCC, health aides were working out of their own homes.

“So now we have a clinic in every village. We came really a long way. It's not just one little group of people that had a hand in this: it's all of us, the whole TCC region. The villages made it possible for us to complete this. But we're not done yet, we still got aways to go and I want to thank everyone,” he said.

When the ceremony for the building was done, it was time to go through the doors.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.