The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Wolfgang Kurtz
LOG Editor 

New clinic selects director


Wolfgang Kurtz | The Seward Phoenix LOG

The audience at Monday's CHC work session is composed mainly of current and prospective SCHC board members and other advocates such as consultant Suzanne Niemi (front).

An interim executive director was announced Monday for the newly funded Seward Community Health Center. Tuesday, SCHC board members were expecting the signature on an employment contract from Sharon Montagnino, who will begin engineering the replacement of the medical clinic at Providence Seward Medical & Care Center. Montagnino is a veteran of the Federally Qualified Health Center start up process and has a resume that includes directorships at the Wyoming State Primary Care Association, a Wyoming startup CHC and a recent engagement as executive director of Talkeetna's Sunshine CHC.

The revelation was made in advance of an official press release by the SCHC at a Monday work session of the Seward City Council. The city had been planning on moving ahead on a locally funded version of a FQHC, but the federal funding put the partnership back on track and kicked it into high gear at the first city work session since the federal grant was announced. With a federally mandated deadline of Feb. 28 to have the Seward CHC up and running, much of the work session dealt with how to get out in front of hiring staff for the local medical clinic.

Although the nonprofit and its incoming executive director will run the new CHC, the city has responsibilities including consent for the hiring of the executive director and oversight over CHC's budget. The federal grant of $775,000 is designated to fund the first 15 months of the CHC and the city, as co-applicant, receives the federal monies and passes them on. In additional, the city has pledged a $750,000 subsidy for the first year of operation along with $80,000 for the hire of Montagnino.

With a proposed first year budget for the CHC of $2 million, the $1.35 million in available funds will have to be topped off by CHC revenues. The city banks about $1 million per year from sales taxes which are set aside in a fund dedicated to city medical enterprises. Kris Erchinger, city finance director, says that additional funds may be available from that reserve if revenues don't match expectations or additional costs arise. The CHC is not expected to operate in the black for at least two years and the city is budgeting a subsidy of $500,000 from the same fund for the CHC's second year of operation.

According to Erchinger, typically the federal grant portion of the funding can be looked at as paying for CHC employee wages and benefits. The CHC's proposed budget accounts for the hiring of 10 employees which will roughly replace the existing Providence staff, albeit with some additional administrative positions. The city council appears to be lining up with the CHC board's request to have the city hire the clinic's employees on the city payroll.

At the work session, the council discussed a re-appraisal of that approach at three years with an eye toward divesting the responsibility of employing clinic workers five years in. However, the implementation of parallel employee systems will require code changes and public hearings that left the council scrambling to find dates to schedule the required meetings. The practical aspects of setting up the clinic employees on the city's payroll will be spelled out in an ordinance to be introduced at the Dec. 9 regular meeting of the Seward City Council.

With a finger to the wind, the CHC will shortly proceed with the preliminary hiring process. All new positions will be advertised and CHC interim executive Montagnino will accept and review applications. According to Joseph Fong, PSMCC administrator, their local employees who do not chose to apply to the new clinic or are not hired will be accommodated within Providence Alaska. Providence will continue to operate the hospital and Seward Mountain Haven, the long-term care facility. Another $150,000 will be spent by the city remodelling the medical clinic side of the city owned hospital and clinic building.


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