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SEARHC programs, staff honored with NIHB awards


JUNEAU, Oct. 8, 2012 — The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) received four awards during the National Indian Health Board (NIHB) 29th Annual Consumer Conference and 40th Anniversary Celebration held Sept. 26 in Denver.

SEARHC award-winners included a National Impact Award for Ethel Lund Medical Center Administrator/Medical Director Dr. Janice Sheufelt, MD, of Juneau; Regional/Area Impact Awards for SEARHC Boardmember and Alaska Native Health Board Chairman Lincoln Bean Sr. of Kake and Patient Access Administrator Libby Watanabe, MPA, RD, LD, of Juneau; and a Local Impact Award for the SEARHC Traveling Clinic Program, which sends specialized and higher-level providers to rural communities so people don’t have to travel to receive services.

“So often, it is easy to take the contributions that people make for granted,” SEARHC President/CEO Charles Clement said. “It is inspiring to see folks receiving the recognition and accolades they have so greatly earned.”

Dr. Sheufelt was one of six national winners and the only Alaska winner of the 2012 National Impact Award, which honors an individual or organization whose work made an impact on American Indian and Alaska Native health care on a national level. The Ethel Lund Medical Center, which Dr. Sheufelt manages, has been one of the leading participants in the Indian Health Service’s Improving Patient Care-Quality and Innovation Learning Network, which promotes the development of patient-centered medical homes at tribal health facilities around the nation.

“I'm very honored to receive this award from the National Indian Health Board,” Dr. Sheufelt said. “It is my privilege to work for the Native people of Southeast Alaska. I would like to thank the staff at Ethel Lund Medical Center, who provide excellent patient care every day.”

Bean and Watanabe were among 11 winners of the 2012 Regional and Area Impact Awards, which pay tribute to an individual or organization whose work has contributed to improving American Indian and Alaska Native health care or affected change on an area or regional basis. According to the Alaska Native Health Board, Bean, Watanabe and Susan Yeager of the Alaska VA Healthcare System were each honored for their contributions toward improving and expanding health care for Native Veterans throughout Alaska. Their leadership and strong influence has greatly impacted legislation and the health status of many veterans. Their guidance in drafting the VA-IHS Reimbursement Sharing Agreement to help coordinate care between the Veterans Affairs, Indian Health Service, and Alaska tribal health organizations is imperative for better quality care. Two other Alaskans received Regional/Area Impact Awards — Victor Joseph of the Housing First Program with the Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks and William Smith of Valdez with the Tribal Veterans Representative Program.

“This was a complete surprise and I accept this award on behalf of the veterans,” Bean said, adding that IHS Alaska Area Director Chris Mandregan also worked with him, Watanabe and Yeager to improve access to care for veterans living in rural Alaska. “They helped us, they served their country, and this was how we could help them. We’ve been able to simplify and make the VA friendlier, and we’re helping veterans fill out their paperwork so they can get their benefits. This was way overdue for veterans. I’ve talked to so many veterans who applied, applied, applied and nothing happened. This was all about the men and women who served our country.”

“I'm thrilled to win a National Indian Health Board award for the work and advocacy that I've done with and for Alaskan Veterans,” Watanabe said. “It's an honor to receive the award and I dedicate my award to Alaskan Veterans, who pledged their lives to earn the freedom that we enjoy today.”

The SEARHC Traveling Clinic Program was one of 12 winners (two Alaskan) of the 2012 Local Impact Award, which acknowledges an individual or organization whose work has affected change or impacted health care on the local or tribal level. SEARHC is a consortium of 18 tribal communities scattered over an area about the size of Florida, with many of the communities located in remote areas accessible only by plane or boat. According to the Alaska Native Health Board, the vital role the SEARHC Traveling Clinic Program plays in bringing traveling medical specialists to specialty clinics helps rural communities not only overcome the barrier of access to care, but save on expenses, improving the health care of Alaska Natives in these communities. The other Alaskan to win a Local Impact Award was Charles Anderson of Anchorage, the board chairman of Cook Inlet Region Inc. and vice-chair of the board of Southcentral Foundation.

“We are going to continue to bring more of our services out into the region,” Clement said. “We’re only as strong as our smallest clinic.”

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