Norton Sound Health Corporation

History

In 1969, the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) sought a demonstration project to give Alaska Natives greater power in health care decisions. Norton Sound was selected for development of a model for community-based health care services as an alternative to regional, hospital-based care. Norton Sound Health Corporation (NSHC) was incorporated November 27, 1970. The first board had just three directors: William Takak of Shaktoolik, president; Winfred James of Gambell, treasurer; and Dorothy Isabell of Teller, secretary.

That first NSHC Board of Directors faced a formidable task: Bring health care services to a remote area with limited resources. At the time, northwest Alaskans had little access to health care, and getting medical treatment often meant traveling long distances to regional hospitals. One of the first initiatives NSHC launched was the health aide program, established in 1971. While health aides continue to be the backbone of the NSHC organization today, more than 40 years later, NSHC’s services have expanded to include clinic travel clerks, village-based counselors, patient benefit coordinators, dental health therapists and nurse practitioners in all the villages served.

At its first meeting in November 1970, the NSHC Board of Directors established its highest goal: provide a “comprehensive and quality inpatient facility in Nome.” That year, NSHC opened its first office in the basement of Maynard-McDougall Memorial Hospital in Nome, with a budget of $143,000. Six years later, NSHC purchased the hospital, and in 1978 Norton Sound Regional Hospital opened in Nome. It was quickly followed by Unalakleet’s sub-regional health clinic, staffed by a physician assistant and community health aides serving four villages.

In 1975, NSHC became the first Native health corporation to become independent of AFN and contract directly with the Indian Health Service. The following year, the board assumed responsibility for regional environmental health services through assignment of a federal Public Health Service sanitarian.

Over the years, NSHC’s board focused on expanding patient care in the Bering Strait region of Alaska, adding basic services in 15 villages throughout the Norton Sound area as well as specialty clinics in Nome. Areas of specialty care include the Infant Learning Program, Rainbow Services for patients with developmental disabilities, the Injury Prevention Program, WIC, the “Waiting Place” home for expectant mothers and the Chronic Care Active Management and Prevention Program (CAMP), established to focus on lifestyle changes including diabetes prevention and smoking cessation.

The board’s hard work has resulted in milestones such as the purchase and installation of a CT scanner and cancer treatment chair, both of which have reduced the need for NSHC patients to travel to Anchorage for treatment.

In 2008, the Board of Directors adopted the motto “Patient First” to reflect NSHC’s commitment to making quality patient services our highest priority. In October of that year, NSHC opened The Patient Hostel, a 38-bed facility that offers patients a quiet, comfortable place to stay while receiving treatment in Nome. In its first year of operation, more than 1,400 patients lodged at The Patient Hostel.

Another milestone was reached in 2009, when Indian Health Services awarded NSHC full funding to complete a new hospital building in Nome. Construction began in October 2009 and was completed in 2012. The first patients were seen at the new Norton Sound Regional Hospital and Quyanna Care Center in 2013.

Past board chairmen

1970-1971 William Takak - Shaktoolik

1971-1974 Charles Degnan - Unalakleet

1974-1975 William Takak - Shaktoolik

1975-1977 Darryl Trigg - Nome

1977-1978 Jack Fuller- Nome

1978-1979 Louise Bockman - Nome

1979-1982 Charles Soxie - Unalakleet

1982-1983 Joseph Dexter- Golovin

1983-1984 Charles Soxie - Unalakleet

1984-1985 Caleb Dotomain - Golovin

1985-1991 John Jemewouk - Elim

1991-1992 Larry Ivanoff - Unalakleet

1992-1995 Joseph Dexter- Golovin

1995-1999 Larry Ivanoff - Unalakleet

1999-2008 Emily Hughes - Teller

2008- Emily Hughes - At large