Questions were posed, but not answered, in a well-attended listening session Wednesday (11-15-23) on the future of home healthcare in Sitka. The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium closed its Home Health Department on September 30, leaving many carers and patients unsure about the consistency of in-home services in its absence. SEARHC has said nothing will change, but no one from the consortium was present to address concerns.
Hosted by the Sitka Woman’s Club, the listening session brought about 150 people to Centennial Hall to share stories about their experiences with home healthcare in Sitka, and their questions about what comes next.
Carolyn Fredrickson, a founding member of the Sitka Cancer Survivors Society, said that home health services were invaluable when she was wheelchair-bound last year.
“Without Home Health coming to my home, I would have had to go to Long-Term Care, or be out of Sitka for the year,” Fredrickson said. “I can’t thank them enough for taking such wonderful care of me. They helped me with my morale, with my wellbeing, and I looked forward to having them come into the home three times a week.”
Many others echoed sentiments of gratitude for the home health services offered in Sitka until the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, or SEARHC, announced that the program would close at the end of September. SEARHC has maintained that the shift is largely administrative. In an August interview with KCAW, SEARHC Chief Medical Officer Elliot Bruhl said that federal regulations intended for larger cities made operating the Home Health department “challenging and inefficient,” but that patients would continue to receive identical services.
“I would kind of describe it like building an international airport in a location where what you really need is an airstrip,” Bruhl said.
Many Sitkans, though, still have questions. Dr. Marilyn Coruzzi, a retired physician who practiced in Sitka for 15 years, wanted details.
“How can it be the same, if we hear one nurse is available where we had three?” Coruzzi said. “How is it going to be the same without much more support and commitment by SEARHC? How is it going to be the same? Give me the details. If somebody’s dying at home, who is going to pronounce the patient, who is going to do the doctor’s orders for pain management?”
SEARHC representatives were invited to attend the event, but declined by email and asked that fliers publicizing the event on Sitka’s SEARHC campus be removed. Coruzzi and several other speakers said they were disappointed that SEARHC did not attend.
“I’m terribly disappointed that SEARHC declined to be here,” Coruzzi said. “Usually when I make a decision, I feel good about it. And I want to explain to those who don’t understand how I came to it. I do have specific questions from SEARHC beyond their recurring ad that says it’s all going to be the same.”
Some speakers said they were interested in pursuing other avenues to share their concerns, including attending a SEARHC board meeting, writing a letter to the Sitka Assembly, and contacting US Senator Lisa Murkowski. Community member Linda Waller suggested responding to SEARHC’s newspaper ads, which state that “there has not been any reduction or gap in SEARHC’s home-based services,” with another ad.
“Perhaps since SEARHC likes to communicate with their ads, why don’t we take out an ad?” Waller said to laughter and applause from the audience. “Would that be a good way to communicate with SEARHC? Half page, full page in the paper with bullet points.”
Organizers said they were pleased with attendance at the event, and that questions and comments will be compiled and sent to SEARHC. Those who weren’t able to attend can submit comments by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
SEARHC did not respond to request for comment by phone or email by press time Thursday.