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Southcentral Foundation takes progressive approach to health care

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - In 1997, Congress passed legislation that established Alaska as the only state, thus far, where Natives manage their entire health care system without IHS.

Out of Sec. 325 of Public Law 105-83, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium was formed to assume the responsibility for Alaska Native health care from IHS, spokesman Bill Batten said in an e-mail.

With this vote of confidence, many people may wonder how Alaska Natives proved themselves in the health care arena. No one can take all of the credit, but the Southcentral Foundation makes the list as a leader in progressive health care.

Under the direction of Katherine Gottlieb, president and chief executive officer since 1987, SCF's approach to health care has broken the medical world status quo: treat quickly and release from care with little-to-no contact outside the doctor's office.

In contrast, they offer same-day appointments, and case management to complement about 65 family wellness programs.

To continue on the path of providing excellent service, SCF fields suggestions from representatives of 55 Alaska Native villages, elders, a traditional elders council, and a board of directors. They also mail out

surveys to clients every two years. In between those years they evaluate employee satisfaction.

''We kind of break off from square and go into a circle,'' she said. ''We're constantly changing from the feedback we receive.''

The Cook Inlet Region Inc., created SCF in 1982 to provide more health care choices to the Alaska Native and American Indian populations.

''By 1983, SCF was operating the first of its health care programs, a small dental clinic in Anchorage,'' Batten said. ''SCF obtained more funding for more health care programs, and grew steadily through the 1990s.''

Since Gottlieb grabbed the leadership reigns, SCF has mushroomed from 100 employees to more than 1,200, and from an annual operating budget of $3 million to $100 million.

SCF provides the health care for more than 44,000 Alaska Natives and American Indians within a 107,413-square-mile area across south-central Alaska, extending from the Canadian border on the east to the entire Aleutian Chain and Pribilof Islands on the west. This includes doctor visits to villages in remote locations.

One statistic Gottlieb hopes to change is the rate of domestic violence in Alaska, as it usually charts as one of the top five states in the nation.

To address this problem in Indian country, an advisory committee comprised of Alaska Natives and professional behavioral health providers formed the Family Wellness Warriors Initiative in 1999.

FWWI collaborates with leaders of the Alaska Native and faith communities to reduce domestic violence, neglect and abuse through assistance and restoration of traditional family values.

The principles of FWWI are also applied to employee training. During the workshop, employees ''journey back to their story'' of their life and how it has shaped their personalities and dealings with co-workers and family.

Gottlieb, Aleut and Filipino, humbly said that through the training, she discovered that she was a perfectionist. Her father always complimented her, telling her she was going to be the one that succeeded in her family. Through the training, she has learned how to achieve balance in the workplace.

''If I tried to make everyone perfect to my standards it could wreak havoc in the work place,'' she said. ''Everyone's achievement to perfection is different.''

Also encompassed in the realm of family wellness are the behavioral health clients who are considered high risk for suicide. In the Denaa Yeets program, Athabascan for ''our breath of life,'' clients are counseled and chaperoned outside the clinic.

The goal of the program is to restore a client's sense of self worth, cultural identity and desire for life.

''We are establishing relationships with them and walking with them in their life,'' Gottlieb said. ''It's more like doing case management with people that are high risk.''

There are endless programs worth noting, too many to list, so Gottlieb highlighted a few.

She said that there is an internship program in place to inspire Alaska Native youth to choose the medical field and hopefully SCF as their career destination. Elders 55 and older have the option of utilizing a caregiver to take them to their doctor's office as well as stopping by for a casual visit. Clients can also integrate traditional medicine and healing into their health care with the permission of their physician.

These programs have reduced clients' trips to the hospital and their rate of diabetes, Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb started as a receptionist at SCF in 1987. She holds an MBA from Alaska Pacific University. Outside her job, she serves on the board of the Alaska Native Heritage Center and several other organizations. On the national level, she works on Native policy issues.

To add to the success story, the minister of China recently visited SFC to evaluate their traditional healing program. Delegates from New Zealand, Russia and Canada have also visited to learn more about SCF methodologies. For more information, visit www.southcentralfoundation.com.