Program awards help Alaska Native nonprofits to expand health care services.

News Source: The Alaska Contractor
Publish Date: July 19, 2011

Indian Health Service Joint Venture Construction Program awards help Alaska Native nonprofits to expand health care services

Fast track schedules keep contractors hustling

By Rachael Fisher

Health care construction is on the rise this summer with contractors hard at work on new significant projects for Alaska Native nonprofits such as Southcentral Foundation’s Valley Native Primary Care Center and Tanana Chiefs Conference’s new Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center in Fairbanks.

Both projects are part of the Indian Health Service’s Joint Venture Construction Program and are expected to be open by 2013. The IHS JVCP establishes projects where American Indian and Alaska Native tribes can acquire a tribally owned outpatient health care facility.

SCF has long recognized the need for a larger facility in the Valley.

“It has been obvious that the need has existed for at least 10 years,” said Douglas Eby, MD, vice president of Medical Services. “The Alaska Native population in the Matanuska- Susitna Valley was 5,000 in the 2000 census, which is the same size as several rural regions in Alaska that have their own small tribally run hospital.

“The population nearly doubled by the 2010 census to just under 9,000 and continues to grow fast. Expecting all these people to drive all the way to Anchorage for even basic medical, dental and behavioral health care is impractical.”

But the $50 million project didn’t truly gain momentum until the Foundation applied for the IHS JVCP in mid-2009.

“The opportunity that made this possible now was the Indian Health Service funding some joint ventures with tribes where the tribe funds and builds the facility itself and the Indian Health Service helps with some of the staffing costs in order to provide services to all Alaska Native and American Indian individuals,” Dr. Eby said.

After the application was approved SCF quickly went to work, in collaboration with its tribal partners the Chickaloon and Knik tribes, to take the project from conception to design to building to opening day in just more than two years—a relatively short construction timeline.

The first hurdle to overcome was securing funding to supplement the IHS JVCP money.

“It is a challenge for SCF to fund the facility and a large loan through the USDA has helped with that, but this is still a loan and is stretching SCF debt and financial capacity about as far as it can go in order to not lose out on this opportunity with IHS,” Allison Knox, SCF’s public relations director, said.

Neeser Construction Inc. is the design/build contractor for the 85,000-square-foot, two-story facility. Because the VNPCC is part of the IHS JVCP it must meet IHS design criteria. “This does create some challenges and restrictions, but overall the IHS requirements are pretty reasonable,” Knox said.

The design is also intended to allow future growth and focuses on a theme of welcoming, gathering, health and wellness in a culturally sensitive setting, according to NCI senior project manager Neil Bhargava.

The design provides ample space for education as well as several locations for community events. The interior gathering space is 4,800 square feet and is designed for maximizing sunlight in all seasons with an adjacent children’s play area that allows parents to supervise from the gathering area.

“The landscaping and hard surfaces surrounding the building have been designed to make the exterior a gathering space with a fi re pit for warmth and community sharing,” Bhargava said.

The construction phase kicked off in April. Excavation and backfill work, concrete footings, pads and foundations are in progress as of the beginning of June. Structural steel is in fabrication and will be delivered to the site the first week of August. By yearend the building will be enclosed and the roof will be on.

“NCI had to design and build this 85,000-sqaure-foot facility in 18 months which includes supply and installation of FF&E items. This is a really a very fast track design/build project,” Bhargava said.

Once complete the center will expand SCF services in the Valley to include dental, behavioral health, optometry, audiology, limited physical therapy and some visiting specialty services. It will also expand ancillary services such as lab, radiology and pharmacy.

The VNPCC will occupy only a quarter of the “campus” leaving plenty of room available for future expansion.

“We think this is the first sizable tribal facility in the Valley and it will therefore also act as a sort of natural gathering place, and it is our hope that over time the entire campus can be developed in support of the health journey of the people for whom it exists,” Knox said.