The Delta Discovery - The real news for the real people

Governor’s Approved Capital Budget benefits the people of the YK Delta


Governor Sean Parnell approved the State’s capital project list and several will benefit the YK Delta and the YKHC service area with younger generations in mind.

Although funds from the state capital budget were trimmed by Governor Parnell’s vetoes on June 29th to the tune of $400 million, $2.8 billion worth of projects remained in the capital budget and will be available effective July 1st, the start of the state’s fiscal year.

For YKHC’s capital requests, two major initiatives will be funded including the second and final installment of $10.5 million for Bethel’s regional prematernal home and $1.6 million for the Qungasvik Youth Sobriety project.

For YKHC’s prematernal home director Doreen O’Brien, the news is an exciting highlight for her twenty years experience running the existing home.

“I feel like I won the lottery,” O’Brien said of the project’s funding and slated construction moving forward. “There’s excitement, anticipation –some staff and clients are even a little bit scared of the anticipated change upon hearing the great news. We have questions like, ‘where are we going to put it, how are we going to staff it?’ But more important than anything the excitement for the new prematernal home is long overdue and greatly welcomed.”

To understand O’Brien’s sentiments about the existing home, everyone in the Delta would agree the aspects and concept of the prematernal home itself is considered ‘Doreen’s baby’–and as she simply states it: “it’s held together by bandaids and duct tape” in typical rural Alaskan fashion.

O’Brien has worked as the executive director of the prematernal home for nearly twenty years. She understands the history of the concept of the building -­like when the idea for the home began in 1967 because an expectant mother from a village had no place to stay in Bethel and was found under an overturned wooden boat near the hospital in the summer months waiting for her child to be born.

O’Brien also knows that the very first ‘prematernal home’ was likely a little trailer house back in the late sixties due to public outcry from the very first woman who needed a place to stay prior to delivering her baby in Bethel.

Once the trailer was outgrown, the prematernal home facilities moved to the existing Front Street Restaurant on First Avenue (previously the Hoffman home) and eventually when the need and enough funds came available, the Prematernal home became it’s own stand-alone non- profit.

O’Brien has seen everything the existing and aging structure has gone through. She and her staff have driven birthing mothers in the middle of snowstorms from the home to the regional hospital for babies to be born. She survived the transition from the prematernal home’s stand-alone non-profit status, to it’s transition under YKHC’s reorganization back in 2004 under the mandate of then Governor Frank Murkowski to save the State some money and merge resources.

O’Brien was key in obtaining the facility’s Community Care license with the State’s Office of Children Services to cover pregnant women, or those in crisis, as well as acquire the necessary liabilities and insurance needed to house women from area villages who otherwise might have been too young or too scared to stay in any of Bethel’s hotels which also bill Medicaid or Denali KidCare for services.

“I’ve pretty much seen it all,” said O’Brien “Now, I am seeing babies borne by mothers who were born when I first began working here. Basically, my first round of babies are having babies!”

In 1971, the existing prematernal home structure was put together by a prefabricated paneled home pieced together and expanded in pieces attached to it over the years. If a person were to walk through the existing facility, which sleeps up to twenty-four women (and only has three bathrooms), they would feel the indentations on the flooring of the aged facility and see the aged state of just about everything within the walls of the structure in disrepair. It has been troubled with everything from leaky roofs, septic and water issues, and energy inefficiencies.

“I don’t want to make it sound like the existing structure is inhabitable, by any means, but we certainly have made due for too long on the warmth and rapport between the expectant mother and our staff. A huge thank you is attributed to YKHC’s leadership Dan Winkelman, Greg McIntyre, and President/CEO Gene Peltola as well as Rep. Bob Herron and Sen. Lyman Hoffman for their continued advocacy in securing these funds. I would also like to thank the region’s residents who have advocated for obtaining a new home, and of course Governor Parnell for appropriating these funds to make a much needed and welcome difference for our region’s expectant mothers.”

According to the 2010 Census, the Wade-Hampton bureau has the highest infant birth rate in the state. In 2010 alone, nearly 430 babies were born in Bethel from the region and an additional 200 higher-risk births were born at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.

Another YKHC funding priority, the Qungasvik Youth Sobriety Project, was approved for funding in the FY12 State capital appropriations for $1.6 Million at the stroke of the Governor’s pen.

The research based cooperative project in partnership with the University of Alaska, tribal, federal, and state entities is an evidence-based practice to prevent suicide and alcohol for the region’s youth.

Alaska experiences chart topping rates for underage drinking and the YK Delta has the highest suicide rate in the nation.

The Qungasvik Youth Sobriety project focuses on protective factors stemming from intensive efforts generated from within the region’s villages and communities along with support and cooperation between the tribes, federal and state government agencies with support provided by YKHC.

The inspiration behind Qungasvik stemmed from a previous effort conducted in the lower Yukon village of Alakanuk, a project known as Elluam Tungiinun program, funded by the National Institute of Health.

Known also as the “Peoples Awakening” or the Yup’ik translation meaning “Toward Wellness” the initial the model generated long-term success in diminishing the frequency of suicides taking place in the villages who have participated as part of the research effort.

The research, spanning over a half-decade and recently expanded to several participating villages has shown youth experiences and involvement in the community resulted in more positive outcomes for the health of the people, where all protective factors were taught and shared.

The location and construction of YKHC’s new prematernal home in Bethel is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2012. The Qungasvik Youth Sobriety project deployment will begin as early as this fall.

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