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Southeast Alaska News
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Kerry MacLane is organizing the 19th Annual Running of the Boots, 10AM Saturday, September 28. The event will start from a tent at St. Peter’s-by-the-Sea. Lunch will be provided at noon. Live music. It’s a benefit for the Local Foods Network.
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Board of Ethics meets Thursday to establish the process for investigating two ethics complaints filed against Assembly Member Alan Bailey, who is running for re-election.
The complaints were filed by two other Assembly members, Mike Painter and Agnes Moran. The first complaint claims that Bailey failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest regarding the issue of borough funding for City of Ketchikan dispatch services.
The issue of funding has been resolved, but before that the borough and city were debating how much the borough should contribute to that service. Bailey’s son is a dispatcher for the city. However, city dispatchers are represented by a union, and their salaries are negotiated between union and city officials.
The second complaint claims that Bailey failed to disclose that he was not representing the Assembly when he recently spoke during the public comment portion of a Ketchikan City Council meeting.
When reached by telephone Monday, Bailey declined to comment on the allegations. He says he doesn’t want to escalate this debate before the local election. Bailey says he will give his side of the story at the proper time during the Board of Ethics investigation process.
According to the borough clerk, the Board of Ethics on Thursday will discuss the procedure and will set a date for an investigative meeting. That meeting will take place no earlier than 10 days after Thursday’s meeting. That means the issue will not be resolved before the local election, which is Oct. 1.
The Board of Ethics meets at noon on Thursday in Borough Assembly chambers.
A change in the way Alaska attorneys receive certification to practice law may allow them more freedom to work outside of the state.
The uniform bar exam, or UBE, is already the norm in 13 states across the country. Ready? Lawyers in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming can practice in any of those jurisdictions.
And, according to President of the Alaska Bar Association Mike Moberly, lawyers here may soon join the club.
“It’s being sent around for discussion, it’d come back before the board for the January meeting,” Moberly says. “If everything went without a hitch we could be administering the first tests by July.”
Moberly is on a regional tour for the Bar Association, meeting with attorneys in communities across Southeast Alaska. While in Ketchikan, he described efforts in Alaska to qualify for the UBE.
The state’s Bar Association already meets the criteria for the UBE in two out of the three portions of the test. Once the essay portion of the bar exam meets the UBE criteria, lawyers will be allowed to qualify.
Moberly says offering the UBE in Alaska will be good for those looking to practice elsewhere. But it’s a two-way street. Attorneys in other states who want to work in Alaska will suddenly have the opportunity to come.
“The portability of it is of course very beneficial to the individual attorney,” Moberly says. “And whether someone outside says ‘hey I’ve got a score high enough to make it into Alaska, let’s see if I can make a living there,’ or ‘I’ve always wanted to practice there,’ or if an attorney here wants to practice elsewhere, I think that it’s going to give them that flexibility.”
Moberly says he has heard some grumbling from lawyers about what an influx of attorneys might mean in terms of competition. But when factored with the amount of those leaving the state, he predicts the net result will be a wash.
As it stands, attorneys in Alaska who have taken the state bar exam only qualify to practice here. So, that means attorneys in Alaska who have already passed the state bar exam will have to retake the UBE if they want to practice elsewhere.
Moberly’s tours through the state allows him to hear questions and concerns from members of the bar association. He says that issues raised in Ketchikan are similar to those in other small communities. Ethical issues in terms of familiarity between judges and attorneys are a frequent topic. Helping economically disadvantaged people gain access to and feel properly served by the legal system is also a common theme.
From Ketchikan, Moberly was scheduled to travel to Juneau.
A 56-year-old Ketchikan woman faces felony drug charges after she allegedly had methamphetamine mailed to her home.
According to the Ketchikan Police Department, local officers worked with U.S. Postal Service Inspectors to complete the delivery to Roosevelt Drive. After the package was delivered on Friday afternoon, officers arrested Teresa R. Redman, charging her with third- and fourth-degree controlled-substance misconduct.
The package allegedly contained seven grams of methamphetamine.
Redman was arraigned on the charges over the weekend. Her next hearing is set for Oct. 1.
Options for health insurance coverage can be pretty limited in Alaska for small businesses and the self-employed. That includes commercial fishermen, who make up a major segment of the economy. Some in the industry say the cost and lack of access to comprehensive health insurance is a barrier to new fishermen and an ongoing concern for those already in the business. From Petersburg, Matt Lichtenstein has more on the story as part of a CoastAlaska series on health care in Southeast:
For mobile-friendly audio, click here.
I have to disclose right at the beginning, I commercial fish part of the year but this story wasn’t originally going to involve me personally. I was just going to be the usual, detached narrator. I was confident that when I was working on my boat, I was covered by the comprehensive insurance my wife and I get through her state job. In the course of researching this story, I found out I was wrong. But I’ll get back to that later.
First, here’s a full-time fisherman Lance Watkins, who works in multiple fisheries:
“So when I listen to the news these days, they’re all about getting small businesses going again. We want small businesses to thrive and go and go small business. I know I’m a very small business as an owner of my small fishing business but I know other owners of their very small businesses and their business decisions are extremely restricted because they have to worry about the high cost of health care.”
Watkins is a slim, healthy, 36-year old who is married with two young children. He says his family used to pay for a temporary policy, hoping his wife could find a job with benefits. When she became pregnant with their second child, he says they were unable to qualify for a regular policy because insurance companies considered pregnancy a preexisting condition. They ultimately ended up getting insurance for the kids through the state-run Denali Kid-Care program.
Watkins was denied private insurance for himself because he’s a dive fisherman. He eventually qualified for major-medical coverage through the Alaska Comprehensive Health Insurance Association. That state organization sells insurance to Alaskans who can’t get it anywhere else. But it’s limited and like other insurance, it’s not cheap:
“The way I figure it is it’s a ten thousand dollar deductible and a five thousand dollar premium for me. I’m paying 15 thousand dollars a year before I get any type of benefit from the health insurance. But I realize that health insurance is there in case something extremely catastrophic happens and that’s why you pay it. So, I don’t go to the hospital or go to the clinic. I take care of myself and if something catastrophic happens, that’s what the insurance is there for. So, I’m playing the game.”
Watkins is playing it safer than many fishermen, who choose to forgo insurance altogether. According to a 2009 study by a health-care-reform advocacy group called the Small Business Majority, 32 percent of Alaska fishermen were not covered. 75% said they preferred having the choice of a private or public health insurance plan.
For Watkins, the problem is systemic:
“I wish universal health care could work because I’d rather pay a little bit more in taxes and not have to fight insurance companies for my medical claims.”
The Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act of 2010 did not include a public, or government-funded option, as many had hoped. However, starting in January it will prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions. That’s an idea 84 percent of Alaska fishermen agreed with, according to the Small Business Majority poll. The new federal law will also help subsidize the cost of private insurance, depending on income.
But the rates are expected to continue increasing.
“There’s one direction that rates for individuals and families keep going who are not included in a group and that’s up, up, up, every single year.”
That’s Petersburg –Wrangell insurance owner Sue Erickson.
“What we’ve seen as the rates have changed year after year is families and individual fishermen opting for higher deductibles as a way to offset the monthly premium, but it gets to the point where you need to be pretty sick before the health insurance carrier’s going to kick in.”
Even Erickson wonders how long she’ll be able to insure her half-dozen employees. She says it’s critical to provide those benefits, but the cost is ridiculous for a small-group plan like hers. Erickson’s husband is a fisherman who is covered under her policy. She says it would be less expensive for him to get an individual policy but she doesn’t want him to risk changing insurance because of a preexisting back condition.
He’s like plenty of fishermen who depend on coverage from another job or their spouse’s group insurance. I fall into that later category. I’m covered under my wife’s insurance with the Alaska State Employees Association Health Benefits Trust
Erickson suggested I make sure I’m actually covered while I’m fishing.
“Anyone, It wouldn’t be just fishermen, there are some policies that exclude work-related injuries for a self-employed person,” she said.
So my wife and I called the Trust and were told that in fact our plan does not cover work injuries. Sure enough, page 73 of our benefits booklet says in no uncertain terms that the plan does not cover “charges in connection with an occupational injury or illness.” I had already planned on buying insurance for my crew and now I’ll need to buy additional coverage for myself if I want to play it safe.
“I think it’s a barrier to growing Alaska’s small business base through the commercial fishing industry,” said UFA Executive director Julianne Curry, who knows the situation first hand, “After I graduated from college and I was kicked off my parents’ insurance plan I paid for my own insurance and it was extremely, extremely expensive . Because I was self-employed and I worked in the fishing industry it was really one of my only options. I always did it because I knew I was probably better off but if it came down to me being able to make a boat payment or me having health insurance, I’d have to make that difficult choice and I know There’s a lot of people in the fishing industry who have to make the choice between being able to afford health care or being able to afford their boat payment and their gear payment and their house payment.”
Fishermen hurt on the job can apply for aid through the Alaska Fisherman’s fund. Velma Thomas is administrator for the fund, which exists partly because fishermen in Alaska are not covered under workers compensation law:
“So there’s a kind of that paradigm. How does a commercial fisherman get coverage? We’re not an insurance company but we’re an emergency medical fund to assist with medical bills after other private insurance that maybe available to the fisherman.”
For instance, injured deckhands can seek medical benefits through their skipper’s crew insurance, if they have any. By law, the Fisherman’s fund can only pay up to 10 thousand dollars per claim. Applicants can ask the program’s advisory council for more, but there’s no guarantee.
In the 2012 fiscal year, Thomas says there were 670 claims and the fund paid out around 866 thousand dollars in benefits. Over the last few years, only about 11 percent of applicants had health insurance.
Hospital facilities throughout Southeast Alaska are getting old, with many closing in rapidly on 50 years since they were built. Health care has changed quite a bit in the past half-century, and communities are facing expensive upgrades to keep up with those changes into the future.
This report, part of CoastAlaska’s series taking a look at health care in Southeast Alaska, focuses on Ketchikan’s plans for an extensive remodel of its community hospital.
If you appreciate 1960s interior design elements, Ketchikan Medical Center’s surgery rooms are for you. The cramped spaces are tiled in vintage green. And while there have been some upgrades in the past half-century, it still looks like the set for a movie based in a bygone era.
Kim Schwartz, surgical services manager, showed a small group of visitors a vintage item left over from the original construction. She opened up a little door in the wall, and said, “Does anybody know what that is? What it is, it’s suction. What you’d do is turn on water, water would go down though here, you have a hose on here and creates a vacuum.”
Penny Pedersen of the Ketchikan Medical Center Foundation clarified that the device, which still works, isn’t used anymore.
Pedersen led a tour of the hospital to show its structural limitations, particularly in the surgery area. But she and Schwartz were quick to point out that it provides quality care despite those shortcomings.
“The average infection rate across the nation is about 3 percent in the operating room, and we were at zero,” Pedersen said.
While that is impressive, the facility needs are notable. And Ketchikan isn’t alone. Karen Perdue, CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, said, “As I travel around the state and look at hospitals in Alaska, I would say that the lower Southeast is an area where, the three hospitals I can think of, Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg, are among the most aging facilities that we see in the state.”
Ketchikan’s hospital is owned by the city, and operated by PeaceHealth, a Catholic nonprofit medical provider that also manages facilities in Oregon and Washington.
Southeast Alaska has a long history of communities working in partnership with nonprofit
health care groups. Perdue said those communities have been careful about keeping up with routine maintenance. However, “at some point, you just can’t remodel enough to keep up with what the patients need. That’s what we’re seeing in Southeast Alaska.”
The City of Ketchikan already has about $15 million from the state for its project, and voters will decide in October whether to take on $43 million in bonds, the amount still needed for the renovation’s first phase. That’s the largest, most expensive phase, and would add about 72,000 square feet to the hospital and the PeaceHealth-run clinics.
There have been some minor renovations since the mid-60s, including badly needed electric upgrades so fuses don’t blow during surgeries. But the basic structure has remained the same.
That’s not the case a little farther north. Juneau’s Bartlett Regional Hospital was rebuilt in the 1960s and expanded in the 1980s.
“The hospital is extremely well-equipped,” said Jim Strader, Bartlett’s Director of Community Relations and Marketing. “We have a brand-new state-of-the-art critical care unit, which is not only state-of-the-art itself, but also connected – we have telemedicine capabilities for additional specialist consultations – the building is fairly new. It’s modern. It’s very well equipped.”
Strader said any limitations at Bartlett are related more to services that lack sufficient demand – such as cardiology — rather than facilities that need upgrades.
In Wrangell, it’s a different story. Officials there want a whole new facility.
Wrangell’s hospital was built in 1968, and while there have been additions since then, an engineer determined that remodeling and expanding it would cost more than just building a new one.
Plans for the new Wrangell hospital were on hold while the community went through a turbulent leadership battle, but the hospital and its board are ready to start again.
Perdue said upgraded facilities are important, not just for patient care, but also for attracting and maintaining quality staff.
“As our health care facilities age, providers, especially surgeons, are looking at that to say whether or not that’s a place they want to invest their intellectual capital,” she said.
Back in Ketchikan’s surgery suite, Schwartz set up a room for a mock operation, to demonstrate how little space there is. She explained that, to maintain a sterile field, anyone moving around the patient has to stay a minimum distance, and not touch anything draped in blue. And pretty much everything is draped in blue.
She challenged Bett Jakubek, one of the tour participants, to go get an item from the other side of the room.
Jakubek wove around equipment, knocked something over, and ducked under several cords. They like to call it “surgical yoga.”
There were three on the tour that day, making five in the room. Schwartz said there usually are six, plus the patient, and perhaps a family member. Pedersen told the story of an eager dad who used the back door rather than wade through all the stuff.
“The father wanted to see his newborn baby, but he couldn’t get past everything, so he had to go through that door, into the other operating room, and then come around this door,” she said, laughing.
Floor space isn’t the only problem. The redesign calls for higher ceilings, too, which means the equipment will be mounted on a hanging, spider-like contraption.
All of the renovation plans are geared toward improved care, a better experience for patients, and the ability to keep up with rapidly-changing technology. The direct effect on the public, they say, will be that more patients will receive treatment close to home.
Following Phase 1, additional improvements costing an estimated $14 million are planned at Ketchikan’s hospital. They include an expanded emergency room and lab, and switching the main entrance to where the emergency entrance now sits.
HOMER — Homer voters will consider repealing its ban on the use of plastic shopping bags during the city election on Oct. 1.
Resident and city council candidates Justin Arnold gathered enough signatures to get the initiative on the ballot, the Homer News reported.
The Homer City Council last year approved a ban on the onion skin-thin bags, even though thicker plastic bags were allowed. Plastic bags for produce, meat, spices, dry goods and medicine are still allowed.
KODIAK — In the ocean’s depths, Andy Joca is on top of the world.
On Aug. 24, the Coast Guard officer hauled in a world record: a 13.2-pound starry flounder that is the largest ever taken with a spear gun. The record fish was certified by the International Underwater Spearfishing Association and so large that it even tops the rod and reel record.
If you’re an average Alaskan, odds are you fly the SeaTac-based company’s jets from time to time. (Yes, SeaTac is the name of a city, not just an airport.)
Maybe you’ve memorized your town’s flight schedule. But did you know all this?:
1) Two-thirds of Alaskans belong to the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
2) We earned 530 million miles this summer during a double-mileage promotion, the equivalent of 21,000 roundtrip saver tickets.
3) Half of us are members of the airline’s Club 49 plan, which offers additional discounts, including checked-luggage deals, for Alaskans.
4) The airline has nearly 1,700 in-state employees.
5) 275 staffers are in Southeast.
6) The mileage and Club 49 plans have saved Alaskans $10.7 million so far this year.
7) $8 million of that is from the two-free-checked-bags program for travel in and out of the state.
And here’s one you may have heard of, but decided to forget:
1) Baggage fees raise from $20 to $25 for the first two bags starting Oct. 1. Click here to read more about fare and ticket-change fees.
Source: Marilyn Romano, Alaska Airlines in-state vice president, during last week’s Southeast Conference annual meeting in Sitka.
WILLIS, Texas — A 77-year-old Southeast Texas man hopes to one day be able to bury the remains of his father after the discovery last year in an Alaskan glacier of a military plane that crashed in 1952, killing all aboard.
Retired Col. Jerry Hoblit, a Vietnam veteran, was 16 when he learned that his father, Col. Noel Hoblit, was among the 52 people killed when the Air Force C-124A Globemaster crashed on Nov. 22, 1952, on Mount Gannett.
JUNEAU — Two-and-a-half years after an earthquake and tsunami devastated parts of Japan, suspected debris from the disaster continues to quietly wash ashore in Hawaii and along the West Coast of North America.
Research is underway in Southcentral to better understand the Susitna River drainage, which could eventually inform a decision on a hydro project on the upper stretches of the river.
This summer, researchers traipsed throughout the Susitna basin studying wildlife, human use of the area, fish in the river and characteristics of the area that could change if a hydro project was built.
Now, the Alaska Energy Authority, or AEA, is hearing third quarter reports on the research.
KODIAK — Kodiak Police Department collars its fair share of criminals. As it turns out, it also collars its fair share of canines. And cats.
According to statistics furnished by the police department, almost one in every 25 calls that comes into the department is an animal control call. Of the department’s 12,449 calls for service in fiscal year 2013 (July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013), 468 were specifically animal-related.
Statistics showed officers responded to another 271 “animal problems” while on other assignments.
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON — Cathy Jorgensen received the biggest promotion of her career Friday, Sept. 13.
It was a pretty big deal for the Alaska Army National Guard, too.
Jorgensen, of Eagle River, became the first female to make the rank of general in Alaska Guard history.
“It’s a great privilege,” she said following a ceremony on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Now a brigadier general, Jorgensen is responsible for preparing each of the Guard’s 4,500 soldiers — be that to protect Alaska or to deploy worldwide.
KENAI — Sitting with Marion Nelson and hearing her talk about making her encaustic art makes a person want to give it a try. Since her interest in the art began, she has had her art on display at the Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College and increasingly become more enamored with ordering the hard-to-find supplies and creating her wax works in her backyard studio.
“It is a wonderful work space,” she said.
FAIRBANKS — The state released a package of proposed regulations intended to help curb some of Alaska’s worst pollution in the Fairbanks area.
The regulations, released by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Air Quality include tougher standards for new wood stoves installed in areas of the Fairbanks North Star Borough that fall short of federal air quality standards, more flexible measures to deal with air pollution hot spots and rules to allow local government to issue air quality alerts and take action.
ANCHORAGE — Anchorage police hope a photograph of a severely beaten teenager will jog the memory of witnesses who can help piece together how he was left to die in an abandoned downtown home.
Police are investigating the assault on James Clinton, 18, who was found Monday night unconscious and in critical condition in a home scheduled to be demolished Wednesday. The home is a block away from the main Anchorage federal building, which includes the federal courthouse.
FAIRBANKS — A quarter century ago, Virgie King saw a problem in Fairbanks.
King was working as a teacher in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District at the time and noticed there were not nearly enough positive role models for black students.
There were, at the time, no black principals or administrators in the district office, King said. With only a few black teachers and no black principals to look up to, many black students in the district lacked strong role models.
Alaska’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for August was 6.5 percent, up two-tenths of a percentage point from July’s rate. The national rate for August was 7.3 percent.
Alaska’s non-seasonally adjusted rate was 5.7 percent, down two-tenths of a percentage point from July, and half a percentage point down from a year earlier.
A May 2013 report commissioned by the Pebble Limited Partnership indicates that the proposed Pebble Mine would have a substantial effect on Alaska’s economy. The partnership considers the Pebble deposit to be one of the largest of its kind in the world.
Alaskan economist Scott Goldsmith noted the study in his most recent newsletter, which is funded by First National Bank of Alaska.