Growing Wellness at Girdwood Health Clinic
“Girdwood Health Clinic…a community health center for all.”
– Executive Director, Tawny Buck
By P.M. Fadden
A staple in family medicine, Girdwood Health Clinic (GHC) offers centralized healthcare facilitated bywellness-focused programming and personnel.
In 2018, GHC addsfederal funding and new personnel, further enhancingthe clinic’s Indian to Hope span of patient-provider services.
Health Clinic Executive Director Tawny Buckand President, Board of Directors Chairperson Kathy Trautner lists GHC updates to include funding to provide mental health and substance abuse services, in-house lab work and dispensary, free Medicaid or Medicare service assistance and payment scale systems intended to reduce financial barriers associated with healthcare costs.
From its inception, GHC facility and services are the result of advocacy from Senator Ted Stevens and The Denali Commission bolstered by two community assessment surveys.
Established at the former Girdwood Post Office site,GHC operates on a non-profit, federally qualified lease from 2004-formed Turnagain Arm Health Center.Girdwood clinic received the designation Sept. 2015 and since that time has emphasized expansion of services from urgent to primary care.
To date, GHC records exceptional reviews, including federal awards for quality and is cleared through 2020 for continued Federally Qualified Health Center funding and upgraded technology packages.
“A primary goal,” said Buck and Trautner of the above review and qualification process, “is to assure the community identified GHC as a primary healthcare provider, an in-house dispensary as well as treating including all conditions, little ones through elderly.”
Clinic staffers include healthcare veterans and enthusiastic recent arrivals.
“Jennifer Swift is a Family Nurse Practitioner who has been with the clinic intermittently since 2013 but now is a regular employee,” Buck said. “She has strong skills working with elderly and complex conditions patients.”
“Swift’s professional affiliation with the Natural Health Center in Anchorage and her skill in holistic, as well as traditional, methods to wellness is something that many of our patients appreciate.”
“For me,” Swift said,“there’s a difference between seeing patients for primary care or only very basic needs. It’s taking them on as almost a family member, and treating them with a mind for the complexity of what it is to be human.”
“It takes getting to know the context of a person’s world,” she said, “to provide complete care. The continued examination of coordinated care, management and provision of services will remains a central focus.”
“Riley Vockner is a Physician Assistant who joins the clinic full time in mid-January,” Buck said. “She has been working in Nome for several years and has strong primary as well as emergency care skills. Her experience has given her excellent skills for our x-ray equipment and treating active lifestyle injuries.”
Also among the recent transitions at GHC is welcome of Family Doctor Erin Lester. Raised in Anchorage, Dr. Lester is an outdoor enthusiast who joined GHC personnel, Nov. 2017 on part-time provider basis as general practice physician with obstetrics training.
“I previously practiced full spectrum family medicine at Kodiak, meaning clinic, hospital and obstetrics medicine,” Lester said. “Of specific interest to me is pediatrics. Offering care to children from birth is an area I particularly enjoy.”
“I’m passionate about working in Girdwood,” she continued. “To me, it’s a unique, hybrid environment for health care. Physicians accustomed to more developed or rural environments are equally well-suited to practicing here.”
Staffers also look with positive emphasis upon GHC location. According to Lester and Swift, the region offers great opportunity to live and work, in an exciting environment to practice medicine. Healthcare, and access to it, is paramount to community, the women agreed.
“A huge part of the GHC mission,” Buck said, “is to ensure GHC addresses the needs of the community.”
Regarding the future of health care, GHC staffers hope for advancement equating to unilateral access to a primary care physicians.
“We know that improved access to better primary care means better prevention as well as more positive outcomes,” Lester said.
“At this point,” Swift added, “it’s staging how to grow; identifying the most immediate need, i.e. mental health, substance abuse services and tackling those needs right away.”
In administrative terms, Buck and Trautner feel issues relating to clinic staffing and space are prime opportunities at future growth.
“For me,” Trautner said, “it’s time to think about appropriate space for practice of healthcare and what future form that might take.”
“Once funding comes through,” Buck added, “the questions become where to put it, how to hire for it and how it works.”
“There always will be things we can do to better meet community needs,” Buck and Trautner said. “And as it grows GHC will only be better equipped to provide better services.”
“It’s a critical growth point,” Buck continued. “But, most important of all, GHC is going to take care of you first and figure out payment second.”
“Whether existent barriers are financial, transportation or otherwise,” Buck continued. “GHC’s goal is to remove those obstacles and provide quality care for patients.”
“That’s the idea, the model that GHC strives to continuously improve upon; a community health center for all,” she said.