- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 6, 2016

BETHEL, Alaska (AP) - A Bethel hospital is moving to expand its facilities in hopes of improving health care in the region by increasing staff and cutting down on patient wait times.

Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation has signed a construction agreement with Indian Health Services, which will request federal funds to staff and operate the facility. The agreement paves the way for hospital renovations and the construction of a new primary care facility and staff housing, KYUK-AM reported (https://bit.ly/1RDmbaQ).

“I’ve been waiting 14 years to sign that agreement on March 29. So it’s been a dream of the company’s,” YKHC President and CEO Dan Winkleman said.

The health corporation is hoping the improvements will solve issues that the hospital has been dealing with for several years, including scattered care locations and not enough staff to deal with a growing population.

The YKHC hospital was built in the early 1980s and was receiving about 88,000 patient visits by the early 1990s. Last year, patient visits were up to 150,000, and population growth is expected to continue.

The expansion will boost funding for more staff, which officials said will result in shorter wait times. Patients are now waiting about two weeks or longer before they get an appointment with a primary care provider, Winkleman said.

“That’s a situation that we’ve been in for a long time here,” he said.

Jim Sweeney, vice president of hospital services, said there will also be changes to health care in the surrounding villages. Health care providers will travel to communities every few months or once a year as opposed to every three or four years.

“What we want to do is take the care as close to the people as possible. Now there are some things like a CT scan or certain tests that you’ll have to come to Bethel (for), and we recognize that. But there are other things that if we could do more outreach to the villages we could prevent some of those folks having to come out here,” Sweeney said.

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

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