- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

BETHEL, Alaska (AP) - The longtime CEO of the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corp. has retired months sooner than expected following his recent announcement that he was stepping down.

Gene Peltola Sr. led the corporation for 24 years and earlier this month announced his expected retirement, saying he would work through April.

Peltola, however, was told days later by the corporation’s board of directors to leave immediately last week, KYUK (https://is.gd/8Rke5W ) reported.

The board is not speaking publicly about the issue decided in a closed executive session. The board said in a release that it bought out the remainder of Peltola’s contract.

For Peltola’s replacement, the board hired its chief legal counsel, Dan Winkelman, who on Friday referred to the same release, saying the corporation will not comment beyond that. He did say however, that the corporation will celebrate Peltola’s service with a Jan. 31 retirement party in Bethel.

“I would also like to mention that I have enjoyed Gene’s friendship for the last 13 years and know that will continue, and I look forward to his guidance and continued advocacy for the people of the YK Delta,” Winkelman said in an email to The Associated Press.

Peltola could not immediately be reached by the AP on Friday.

But before the announcement that he was leaving immediately, he called the board “excellent.”

At the time, he reminisced about how the corporation had changed since he took it over in 1990. The corporation was going through difficult times, with three dozen staff members laid off and most of the director positions vacant.

“And immediately, I was able to fill those positions with quality people and competent people — and that was the crux of the turnaround for the corporation,” he said.

When Peltola came on board, the corporation’s annual budget was between $10 million and $11 million. Today, its budget is $175 million annually.

With 1,600 employees, the corporation is the largest employer in Bethel.

Peltola brought in 37 new health clinics to villages in the region through the federally funded Denali Commission.

Before taking over the corporation, Peltola was a private contractor and was involved in the airline industry, retail sales and construction.

Before his retirement, Peltola said funding has been the biggest challenge of the job. It’s difficult when money comes from people who don’t understand the high cost of remote services, he said. Bethel, 400 miles west of Anchorage, and surrounding villages are off the state’s limited road system.

Peltola said he’s been asked which way to drive to get from Anchorage to Bethel, “and you kind of laugh and chuckle and then tell them there’s no way you can drive there.”

In a release about his replacement, Peltola said, “It’s going to be a difficult time but we need to ask and encourage our employees and our community members to come together to support Dan in this transition.”

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Information from: KYUK-AM, https://www.kyuk.org

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