Fort Yukon gets new $8.2 million health center

Fort Yukon, Alaska (AP) 11-07

A new $8 million health center will soon be open in the Interior village of Fort Yukon, replacing two trailers that date back to the 1970s.

The new 15,000-square foot Yukon Flats Health Center will serve more than 2,500 people who reside in the area when it opens in November.

“We’ve got tremendous health care needs out here,” said Ben Stevens, executive director of the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments. “And now we have the right infrastructure here.” A dedication and open house during late October attracted several hundred people. They crammed into the small waiting area for the event where tribal leaders spoke and the Fort Yukon Dance Team performed several traditional songs.

Since 1992, the council has provided health care from the two Federal Aviation Administration trailers, which were intended as temporary structures.

Health officials said it is an ongoing battle to provide care for people in the Yukon Flats. There are no roads in or out of Fort Yukon. Inclement weather during the winter makes emergency transportation difficult, and recruiting people to work at the clinic is a struggle.

Several people described the new health center as a “beautiful,” despite the fact that none of the furnishings have arrived yet and a back room is still under construction.

“This is like the Taj Mahal for us,” said Lona Ibanitoru, health director for the clinic.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who has a home in Fort Yukon, spoke at the dedication about the high quality of the care that will be available there.

“This is what the future of health care in Alaska is about,” he said. “It’s about bringing the best health care we can everywhere.”

Similar facilities have been constructed in other rural villages in recent years. The Fort Yukon clinic is the largest to date since it will serve a relatively large population.