A map from an information sheet supplied to members of the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Native Affairs for a hearing in June, 2017. The SEARHC campus already includes much of the property transferred by S.825. At left, a proposal for a new hospital building.

S. 825 is formally known as “The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Land Transfer Act of 2017.” The bill will give SEARHC an additional 19 acres of land adjacent to its current campus on Japonski Island in Sitka — and room to replace the 70-year old Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital.

During debate on the floor of the US House on Monday (12-10-18), Alaska Representative Don Young encouraged his colleagues to support the transfer, saying it would allow SEARHC to secure financing for expansion.

“The hospital was constructed toward the end of World War II, it is in dire need of update due to its age and condition,” said Young in his remarks. “For the consortium to secure financing for the update, they need land on the hospital campus which is currently held by IHS (Indian Health Service), conveyed by warranty deed.”

The final vote in favor of S. 825 in the House was 403-3.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced the bill in April of last year. After several committee hearings, it passed the Senate on November 29, 2017.

The Yea’s have it. C-SPAN shows S. 825 passing the US House of Representatives with little opposition on December 10, 2018. (Image courtesy Charlie Arnowitz)

In a news release, Sen. Murkowski writes, “I’m encouraged to know that this legislation will allow SEARHC to renovate one of the oldest and largest Native-run hospitals in our country, and to ensure access to more advanced healthcare opportunities.”

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan also praised the passage of the bill: He said “SEARHC provides vital medical services to our remote and rural communities in Southeast Alaska. This legislation will allow them to renovate and improve Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital, and expand critical healthcare services to the people of the region.”

In a presentation to the Sitka Assembly last summer, SEARHC CEO Charles Clement said that his organization planned to construct a new hospital on the site within the next 5 years.

In the meantime, negotiations between SEARHC and the Sitka Assembly are underway for the sale of Sitka Community Hospital. If the sale were to be completed, SEARHC says it would lease the Sitka hospital for 5 years while its new facility was under construction.