Collaborating with Alaskan Tribes to Improve Preparedness

The Alaska Tribal Health System is like no other system in America. Most notably, it serves an extremely rural population – 80 percent of Alaskan communities are only accessible by boat or plane. Most of the rural communities’ health care is provided via the Alaska Tribal Health System. This system consists of a network of tribal health organizations across the state operating in partnership within the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC). Six critical access hospitals support more than 180 communities and sub-regional clinics. The Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage provides the highest level of care in the state. Alaska’s unique geography and logistics present unusual challenges to emergency preparedness and response. To help bridge these gaps, PHEP funding supports the ANTHC. Working together with tribal leaders and state and local health departments, ANTHC strengthens the ability of Alaska’s rural communities to prepare for, withstand, and recover from public health threats.

PHEP has afforded ANTHC’s emergency preparedness program opportunities to support local capacity building and regional readiness. Because rural clinics are often days away, community health aide practitioners (CHA/P) are on the front line of medical care in these communities. This means that leaders often look to CHA/Ps to help manage local response during emergencies. In 2015, ANTHC developed a training program for CHA/Ps and community leaders that explained emergency management principles and highlighted local response roles and the Alaska disaster process.

In the summer of 2017, ANTHC expanded its efforts to include an assessment of the entire regional tribal health system through an emergency management perspective, with a focus on relationships. Through this process ANTHC provides training to local leaders and front line responders, and comprehensively analyzes the health system, from governing boards to emergency operation plans. Ultimately, ANTHC provides recommendations and technical assistance. The emphasis on all aspects of this assessment is on relationship building and making it clear that all Alaskans, whether residing in rural communities or urban areas, deserve access to comprehensive preparedness resources, education, and training.

“The PHEP program provides a lot of flexibility in interpreting the (public health preparedness) capabilities in a way that works for our state,” said Sondra LeClair, Alaska’s PHEP director. “We can be creative and customize the standards in a way that meets the unique needs of rural areas.”

MMWR 2017 Measles cases, by week.

Eighty percent of Alaskan villages are off the road system and only accessible by boat or plane.

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The Incident

Most Alaskan communities are not accessible by road, meaning leaders need to be prepared to handle emergencies until help arrives.

The Response

The PHEP-funded Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium trains community leaders and equips regional hospitals to be better prepared for emergencies.

The Outcomes

Regional emergency plans have improved, and rural areas are better represented in preparedness and response.