(Photo provided by the Alaska Native Sisterhood, Camp 4)

The City of Sitka is hosting the first of two town halls tonight (08-30-17) to gather public input on the future of health care. 

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in ANB Hall, with another one scheduled  for Thursday at 6 p.m. in Harrigan Centennial Hall. Those who show up will have an active hand in deciding what the Assembly does next.

Back in May, SEARHC put an offer on the table to merge Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital with the city-owned Sitka Community Hospital. The Sitka Assembly heard largely negative testimony on that from citizens and was flooded with new information all summer. That includes a $35 million pension obligation, interest from a pair of hotel owners in purchasing the hospital, and the hospital’s own multi-pronged plan for financial survival – shifting resources to primary and urgent care. Rather than move forward with a single idea, the Assembly has decided to take a step back.

Last month, they directed city attorney Brian Hanson to draft a request for proposal, seeking other offers that range from a “collaboration, affiliation, a management agreement, an outright sale, a merger, or the creation of a non-profit.” Basically, they’re open to any and all ideas.

Assembly member Bob Potrzuski says what he’s looking for most is a diversity of opinions. “Generally we’ve heard from folks that are very supportive of the hospital or are employed by the hospital, but my moving throughout the community is that’s not the whole picture,” Potrzuski said.

After a year of divisive talks, this is the first time the Assembly is holding a town hall on the issue of healthcare. They’re even bringing in a professional mediator from Juneau – Jan Caulfield – to lead them.

The plan is to begin with small, roundtable discussions, facilitated by city staff members, and then to come back together as a larger group to refine ideas further. Citizens will be asked (1) What are the five most important factors for the Assembly to consider as they address health care in Sitka? and (2) What future healthcare opportunities do you want the Assembly to consider and why?

Assembly member Aaron Bean hopes that consensus will emerge from these townhalls, giving  him and fellow Assembly members some clear marching orders and possible funding options for Sitka Community Hospital.

He explained, “We have to have a plan. We can say, ‘Alright guys, you can have the hospital. But alongside keeping the hospital open is a millage rate increase or a sales tax increase  that’s going to be pay for the hospital.’ I think that there’s a lot of emotions tied to the hospital, which is understandable, but we have to have a responsible way to pay.

Elections will be on October 3rd, so any potential ballot measure wouldn’t be up for vote until next year.

The healthcare town hall kicks off at 6 p.m. tonight at ANB Hall. Raven News will recap tonight’s talk on local news and in further detail during the Morning Interview on Thursday, August 31st.