Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Public health nurse office jobs here to be eliminated


The regional manager for the state’s Public Health Nurse program this week said two full-time Haines positions will be eliminated and the public health nurse office will be closed except during visits by an itinerant nurse, under current plans.

Sarah Hargrave, regional nurse manager, said that although an 18 percent cut by the Alaska Legislature isn’t yet final, the agency is moving forward with plans to close the office and one in Wrangell starting July 1.

“Anything can still happen in the legislature, but we know the end of the fiscal year is coming and we need to make plans,” Hargrave said, adding she has no reason to believe the cut won’t be final.

She said both Haines positions will most likely be eliminated. “Most of our expenses are staffing, so our personnel is unfortunately where the cuts have to be made.”

The office has been staffed by nurses in Juneau since the departure last fall of Brigid O’Connor. Natalie Williams of Haines works in the office as full-time receptionist.

Lisa Schwartz, a registered nurse at the Haines medical clinic and a 26-year resident, said Tuesday that closure of a permanent office here would be a “big change” for the community.

Women’s health clinics offered through the office, staffed by a visiting physician assistant, were popular in part because of the confidentiality offered by a provider who didn’t live in the community, Schwartz said.

“There are some women who would only go there for women’s health care,” Schwartz said. “I see this as a big loss. We certainly have other health care that fills that need, but it fills it in a different way.”

The office also provided considerable education for families and teenagers as well as pregnancy support, Schwartz said.

Hargrave said a public health nurse will still come to Haines, but a schedule for visits hasn’t yet been decided. Alison Brehmer, a public health nurse manager from Juneau who was in Haines this week, said residents will have to plan in advance for such services as childhood vaccinations and flu shots.

A special refrigerator at the local office with a back-up power source for storing vaccines will be disconnected and vaccines instead will come from Juneau, Brehmer said.

Brehmer also recommended for patients seeking family planning services or STD screening, “now would be a great time to get that scheduled before July.”

Brehmer said the number of days per month a public health nurse visits Haines may vary with community need. “It should be more than one day. We want to make it worth it for the community and for the nurse to come up. It would probably be for several days.”

After July 1, patients can schedule visits with the nurse by phoning 907-465-3353.

Haines has been served by a resident public health nurse for more than 40 years.

Linda Worman, an official with the state’s public health nursing section, said in March that cuts were possible statewide.

The decision to close an office would include several factors, such as agency internal information, county health ranking figures, the local poverty rate and availability of other health-care providers, Worman said.

During nine months beginning in July 2014, services provided by the Haines public health nurse office included 673 office visits, 208 immunizations, 264 visits by children (including ones not able to access other care), and 58 visits related to sexually transmitted diseases.

The office also does vision and hearing tests and tests for tuberculosis.


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