Mukluk Telegraph Winter 2021


ANMC staff receive first COVID-19 vaccinations in Alaska

History in the making. A step toward normalcy. An amazing feat of science and technology. These are just some of the ways people have described how they feel about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Twelve months into the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, Alaska received its first shipments of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday, Dec. 13, and deliveries were made safely to three Anchorage health care facilities the next day. Alaska Native Medical Center was the first Alaska facility to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Tuesday, Dec. 15, the first person at the Alaska Native Medical Center to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was Dr. David Dexter, a longtime hospital medicine physician at ANMC. Emily Schubert, ANTHC Employee Health nurse, administered the first dose.

 “It’s been a long time coming and I’m encouraged that we’ve got a vaccine to get this pandemic under control,” said Dexter.” 

Additional deliveries of vaccine were also scheduled for communities throughout Alaska that same day, and throughout that week, distribution of the vaccine to rural Alaskan communities took place.

Initial vaccine supply was limited and the first doses of vaccine were offered to hospital-based frontline health care workers at the highest risk of COVID-19 infection, long-term care facility residents and staff, EMS and fire personnel providing medical services, Community Health Aides/Practitioners and individuals who are required to perform vaccinations. Eventually, all Alaskans who wish to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will have an opportunity to receive a vaccine.

ANMC hospital medicine physician, Dr. Linnea Smith, was among the first 10 health care providers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. She cares for patients who are hospitalized at ANMC, including many COVID-19 patients.

“As I was trying to decide whether or not to be one of the first people to get this vaccine, I thought about the fact that it is remotely possible there are some risks that we’re not aware of to this vaccine, but we very well know what the various serious risks are from COVID-19,” said Smith. “Every day, I’m taking care of patients who are dying from COVID-19. We know what COVID-19 is capable of, and so in my thinking, I decided I would much rather take a small possible risk in order to avoid contracting this very serious disease.”

In the weeks since the initial doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Alaska, both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have been made readily available for Tribal health facilities throughout Alaska.  The Tribal health system is a key contributor to Alaska having the highest rate of people vaccinated for COVID-19 in the United States as of the end of January.

Even though more and more Alaskans are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine every day, it is still important to take proper public health precautions to protect our communities from contracting COVID-19— we must remain vigilant and continue to practice physical distance, hand hygiene and masking up.

If you are a Tribal health beneficiary age 16 years or older and receive your primary care at Southcentral Foundation, and would like to make an appointment to receive your COVID-19 vaccine, call (907) 729-3300. All members of your household are also eligible for the vaccine. If you live outside Anchorage, please call your local Tribal health provider to see if you are eligible to schedule an appointment.

This post was published on our blog here.


Online registration for COVID-19 testing

Testing for COVID-19 is still an important resource in helping reduce spread of the disease.
The COVID-19 Testing at ANMC drive-thru and walk-up locations now offer online registration to reduce waiting time at the testing sites for all patients and ANTHC and SCF staff and members of their households.
Register online at https://covid19test.anmc.org/.


Chevak: A success story in Tribal utility partnership

A frosty day for the water tank

When Chevak joined the Alaska Rural Utility Collaborative (ARUC) in 2004, the program was in its infancy. Chevak, and a handful of other communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, recognized the advantages of working together to manage, operate and maintain their water and sewer systems. For Chevak, the partnership with ARUC has resulted in nearly 50 percent reductions in water and sewer costs for residents, a robust reserve account and a more efficient and self-sustaining system.

Each ARUC community operates their water and sewer systems as a standalone nonprofit business. In 2013, rising energy costs put community leaders into action as they contacted the Consortium’s Rural Energy Program for technical assistance to develop new ways to save on system operations and maintenance. With a combination of an energy audit, energy efficiency upgrades such as high-efficiency boilers, new vacuum sewer pumps, operator training, and a wind-to-heat energy project, the community began to see substantial yearly savings and a healthy, growing reserve fund.

Chevak’s water treatment plant went from more than $200,000 in debt to having over $500,000 in reserves in 2020. These reserves fund needed equipment, overages in labor, and emergencies.

With a portion of the reserve savings, city leadership created an administrative position dedicated to assisting water plant operators with their daily administrative tasks. The position brought new employment to the community and also helped increase collections from 88% to 97% in just eight months. The water plant operators now focus on maintenance of the facilities, rather than customer relations and the fee collections process.

John Atchak, a water plant operator, appreciates having more time for the hands-on side of the job.

“The administrative position has freed and allowed me to go to the field more often,” Atchak said. He now has more time to work on seasonal summer projects and make repairs and improvements to the system.

City Mayor Richard Tuluk has witnessed Chevak’s partnership with ARUC since the beginning. The extra water plant staff, just one benefit of its financial security, would not be possible without the shared vision for water security and a healthy community.

“Our biggest investment is the people in our community that work and maintain our water and sewer systems: our water plant and sewer operators.” Tuluk said. “They are the backbone in our communities that make sure our facilities are providing the water and sewer services.”

Energy costs are the second-highest expense for cold-climate water and wastewater facilities. In 2018, city leaders, looking for even more ways to save, collaborated with ANTHC’s Rural Energy Program on a heat recovery project. Where the community had previously used an average of 15,000 gallons of fuel per year, the heat recovery system saves an estimated 12,500 gallons annually. Customer water rates dropped from $165 a month to just $85 a month and are some of the lowest among the ARUC communities. 

“Chevak has been an amazing success regarding financial stability due to implemented energy projects and utility collections,” said Francine Moreno, ANTHC Manager of Utility Operations.

Communities interested in ARUC’s program can find information on our website here.

This was originally published on our blog here.



Recovery is not only possible – it is worth it

Throughout March’s Sobriety Awareness Month, help raise awareness and celebrate those in recovery

March is Alaska’s statewide ode to sobriety awareness and celebrating our friends, neighbors, relatives, and all who are in recovery. As we approach the fourth year of the state’s Sobriety Awareness Month, it is important to acknowledge how we can and should support Alaskans in recovery from addiction to alcohol and drugs.

The health impacts of alcohol and substance misuse are felt community-wide, as indicated in our statewide alcohol-use data. We can come together as a statewide community to be a part of the solution.

There are as many different paths to recovery as there are different people in recovery. But regardless of how people achieve recovery, their lives, and the lives of those they touch – their families, friends and community members – are vastly improved as a result. Those in long-term recovery are the living proof that recovery happens and that there are real solutions to the problem of drug and alcohol addiction.

As we prepare for Sobriety Awareness Month this March, here are three reasons to promote recovery in your community: 

  1. Alaskans support Alaskans: Alaska has a long history of supporting statewide efforts to help those with substance misuse disorders. Despite decades of grass-roots sobriety movements, including the transport of over 10,000 sobriety pledges during the March 1995 Iditarod, it was not until 2018 that Alaska legislation permanently designated March as Sobriety Awareness Month. Alaska Native people persevered in advocating for this legislation and supporting each other through recovery – it is important we continue that commitment and honor this legacy.
  • Taking care of others is an Alaska Native value: The COVID-19 pandemic has, and continues, to disrupt our health, economy and ability to connect. The stress of the pandemic and the impact of social isolation may have an even greater effect on people in recovery from substance use disorders. As we approach another year of physical distancing, it becomes increasingly more critical to stand up for recovery and reach out to loved ones to let them know you care. Communities across the state are innovating and adapting services to better serve those with substance use disorders, ensuring recovery is still possible during COVID-19. When we speak up, we show people in recovery that they are not alone.
  • To reimagine sobriety: As we spend more time at home, a lot of us are watching more TV and scrolling through social media. There are constant images, ads, and memes that showcase alcohol use or joke about ditching sobriety movements like “Dry January.” But what if we reimagine how we talk about substance misuse? Alaskans are thriving in sobriety and recovery and it is important we see that too. How we see and talk about substance use matters – by using language that supports recovery we are elevating the stories and joy that exists within the recovery community. Sharing and celebrating recovery stories connects community members and empowers those who are still struggling to know they are not alone. It also helps us to eliminate the stigma people in recovery often face and educate the public that recovery is possible.

There are many pathways to recovery and ways to get involved in supporting others. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Participate in ANTHC’s Sobriety Awareness Month: This March, organizations across the state will host events celebrating recovery. We encourage communities across Alaska to join in on Sobriety Awareness Month by following us on social media and engaging in our online activities. If your organization would like to host activities, contact ANTHC Substance Misuse Prevention Program at saprevention@anthc.org for resources, ideas and guidance.

We also encourage everyone to wear a white ribbon throughout the month to promote awareness of mental health and substance misuse disorders, celebrate individuals in long-term recovery, and acknowledge the work of prevention, treatment and recovery support services. Follow the Consortium on Facebook and Instagram for more Sobriety Awareness Month news and content. 

  • Support Yourself and Loved Ones: If you, or a loved one, needs help, you are not alone and there are many statewide resources available.
    • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
    • Careline- Alaska Suicide Prevention & Someone to Talk to Line: 1-877-266-HELP (4357) or visit carelinealask.com

For feedback, questions, or support for Sobriety Awareness Month please contact ANTHC’s Substance Misuse Prevention Program at saprevention@anthc.org.


Protecting Our People: COVID-19 info in five Alaska Native languages

A brighter day is ahead – but first, we mask up to Protect Our People! In partnership with Native Peoples Action Community Fund and the Alaska Public Interest Research Group, we invite you to watch and listen as five of our Alaska Native languages teach us how to keep our communities safe.


Donations are the heart of ANMC’s traditional foods program

The Alaska Native Medical Center, unique in many ways, nourishes our patients’ bodies and souls with traditional foods such as reindeer stew, a variety of salmon dishes and tasty tundra berries. These delicacies are made possible by donations of time and abundant harvests from hunters and gatherers from around Alaska, who sometimes don’t truly understand the benefit of their generosity until after they give.

For more than eight years, ANMC has been on the Alaska State Troopers’ list to accept donated meat but has never gotten the call. Until recently.

“I’ve been on staff for more than six years and this is the first time the Troopers have called us to say it’s our turn,” said Amy Foote, ANMC executive chef.

With the call from the Troopers, Chef Foote sprang into action to quickly assemble a team of people to help butcher the moose. Kyle Roberts, a local hunter, was happy to help volunteer his time for such an important task.

“When I got the call, I gathered what I needed, called my friend Mike Fuller, and got to the location as quickly as I could,” said Roberts. “I knew it was the Lord’s animal, and I knew that because it was being donated to ANMC, nothing would be wasted. It felt great!”

The quick help of volunteers enabled ANMC to utilize the bounty provided.

“My co-worker called me up and asked if I’d want to come help dress out a moose that was donated to the Alaska Native Medical Center. I’m currently an out of work firefighter, so I said ‘Sure, why not?’” said Mike Fuller, who has lived in Alaska for about a decade but has never experienced something quite like this. “It was pretty interesting, because I’ve never taken a whole moose, loaded it in a pick-up and taken it to a hospital to dress it out. Especially at this time when people are struggling, it felt great for me to provide for the community in this way.”

 The volunteer hunters weren’t the only ones to get involved in this undertaking. Staff members from ANTHC’s facilities department, as well as ANMC’s sous chef Nichole Thoms, all pitched in for a quick and efficient process.

“Just a few short hours later, the moose was quartered and aging in ANMC’s freezer. Sometimes we process it ourselves, but this time we will send it to be processed and returned in packaging that is easy to use,” explained Foote.

The Alaska Native Medical Center relies on donations like this one to prepare and serve traditional foods for our people. Our hospital’s medical staff work to heal our people’s bodies, while our dietary staff work to heal their souls with Native comfort foods.

“Donations to the program are critical to the program’s success, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, this program is more important than it’s ever been for the people we serve,” said Foote. “Patients aren’t allowed visitors the same way they are used to. It is critical that we are able to continue to provide emotional comfort and healing through food. For those looking at a long haul stay with no family allowed to visit, having traditional foods and nourishment—like moose broth— triggers memories of better times, positivity, and many find it spiritually encouraging. We can’t buy moose or foods like this, so we rely solely on the generosity of hunters and gatherers to provide for our patients as they heal.”

There are specific criteria outlining the donations to ensure we can accept them. For more information on how you can harvest and donate, visit https://anmc.org/traditional-native-foods-initiative/.


Recipe: Caribou Soup

Healthy eating and food security are important building blocks of health. The Consortium helps promote the knowledge and use of traditional foods and traditional ways that support Alaska Native health. Check out this recipe for Caribou Soup!


March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

March is designated as colorectal cancer awareness month. The Consortium works in partnership across Alaska to reduce death and disease from cancer among Alaska Native people. An important step to preventing colon cancer is to be screened. For more information on screening, visit our specialty clinic webpage here.


‘Don’t let me have gone through this for nothing.’ Son shares mother’s legacy after her passing from colorectal cancer

“Don’t let me have gone through this for nothing.”

Those were some of the last words Rhoda Fox, Inupiaq name Qinugan, said to her son Eric Fox, Ivalu, before she passed away after a long battle with colorectal cancer.

Rhoda was in her first year of retirement when the stomach pains started. After trying other care options, things came to a head and she was brought to the ANMC Emergency Department, where doctors found that she had a tumor in her colon.

“That day, they found the tumor in her colon that was basically blocking everything. She couldn’t even move – the stuff inside her couldn’t even move,” Fox said.

She was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and went into surgery to have the tumor removed.

“They went right into surgery and took it out and thought that they had got it all,” Fox said.

She was set up on a series of scans to monitor her colon health after being released from the hospital. The scans were showing up fine until about eight months later when a scan came back and she was diagnosed with cancer. The family again gathered with their mother to decide how to proceed.

Rhoda went through the grueling process of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

“You’re putting poison in your body. And to see your mother, the one who you love, go through this treatment… anybody who’s been through chemo, you get hit by it and it knocks you back,” Fox said. “I remember trying to feed her and bring food to her and get her back healthy enough just to go through treatment again.”

“It was just heartbreaking to watch her lose all that weight. It was such a struggle, such a battle and she was so brave through it all. But it was so hard to watch and try to get her to a place to take on that battle.”

It was devastating for the family.

“It was a war of attrition so by the end, when the cancer finally came around the last time, and we knew it was the end and she’s passing, we said, ‘You fought the good fight, you don’t have to fight anymore,’” Fox said. 

“We are battling an epidemic”

After Fox lost his mother to colorectal cancer in September 2018, he was approached by the American Cancer Society (ACS), who wanted to help Fox share his mom’s story in the hopes of preventing what happened to her from happening to other Alaska Native people. Fox, who is vice president of security at NANA Management Services and a leader in the Native community, jumped at the chance.

“I made it clear that I wanted to participate but had a very specific focus: address what cancer is doing to Alaska Natives,” Fox said. “We are battling an epidemic right now. So many of my family members, the people that I know, my mom and close family have been hit by cancer and succumbed to cancer.”

Fox now sits on the advisory board of the ACS Alaska chapter. He focuses on educating others of the risks of colorectal and other cancers, and the steep death toll that cancer brings to the Alaska Native community.

“If it was something else that was decimating our people, a person, a cause, an organization, that was going out there and decimating our people, we would be up in arms. Why is in not like that with the battle against cancer?  Why are we not up in arms against this thing?”

Colorectal cancer is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers among Alaska Native people. Alaska Native people are also diagnosed at higher rates and at younger ages than the general U.S. population. Colorectal cancer is also easily cured if detected early by diagnostic screenings.

“There’s an educational part, there’s a call to action, where people have to make actual lifestyle choices, and there’s the screening part, where people need to get screened – especially for Alaska Natives when they hit 40,” Fox said.

It is recommended that all Alaska Native people are screened at 40There are other steps to reducing your risk as well. Fox has been screened and hopes other Alaska Native people will follow suit.

“For whatever reason, our people are not being screened or are shying away from it,” Fox said. “It needs to be, not only accepted, but proactive and getting out there advocating for themselves in getting screened.”

“If you think of generations, our Elders should’ve been screened, our middle-aged generation, like myself, should be getting screened, but our younger generation can also have a role in knowing about this making lifestyle choices and asking their aakas and ataatas and their own parents – have you guys been screened?”

You can start at any age, too. At 48, Fox also made lifestyle changes.

“I quit chewing for one thing. Try to increase fiber through various means. Try to be healthy but it’s pretty tough when you’re middle-aged and to fight some of those things that naturally come with it, I try to make it to the gym,” Fox said with a laugh.

He’s also talking to his kids Liam, 11, and Noah, 8, about eating healthy and building healthy habits.

“I try to have organic foods around. Try to increase the fruits and vegetables, which wasn’t a normal piece of my childhood growing up. But I try to have healthy choices, eat healthy and be an example for my kids,” Fox said.

“The more natural it is, the better it is for you.”

As a member of the ACS Advisory Board, Fox chairs a partnership between ACS and ANTHC that helps connect Alaska Native people to cancer resources. Through these talks, he learned of Dr. Stephen O’Keefe and the Fiber Study, a research study looking at adding fiber the diet of Alaska Native people and the impact it will have on gut health.

“She wasn’t one of those touchy-feely moms, but she always showed us love in one form or another. One of the ways was by feeding us. In the Inupiaq culture, food is a big thing,” Fox said of what they ate growing up. “One of the things she would do, no matter what time at night, no matter how busy of a day she had – she was a single mom, hard-working lady – didn’t matter if it was 9 o’clock at night. She made sure we had a good dinner.”

Previous studies have shown that maintaining a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. According to Dr. O’Keefe and his research, whole foods are best for fiber. They are available canned and frozen, but can also be found growing wild across Alaska.

“But what she (mom) didn’t know and what was available for us when we lived in the village – so much of what we ate was processed food. If she’d have known about things like diet and processed foods and the need for fiber. Had she known, would she have done that? Because it creates this environment in your body that’s cancer-prone and where cancer can really thrive,” Fox said.

According to the Alaska Native Traditional Food Guide, wild plants can be excellent sources of fiber. One cup of raw blueberries, for example, has 4 grams of fiber, and one cup of crowberries or wild blackberries has 5 grams. Wild greens such as fiddlehead, fireweed, nettle, seaweed and sourdock are also high in fiber.

“Had she known, she wouldn’t have ever done it,” Fox said.

Eating traditional foods from subsistence hunting and gathering can have a positive impact on gut health.

“If we’re going out and hunting or catching it ourselves, we know there’s not steroids and antibiotics and all these things injected into these animals. If we’re going out and catching it, it’s natural and the more natural it is, the better it is for you.”

“It’s not impossible, it’s actually doable.”

Fox hopes that sharing his story will get others in the Alaska Native community involved in learning about how to reduce their risks of colorectal cancer.

“People don’t recognize when they are higher risk. How big a part is tobacco, alcohol, diet, exercise, weight? If someone were to look at all these things leading to colorectal cancer, would they be a bit more inclined to get in and do something?” he said.

He also wants Alaska Native people to be advocates in their health and wellness journey.

“Pay attention to our own intuitions and advocate for ourselves when we need something,” Fox said. “As a community, if we understand it’s preventable and you make the right lifestyle choices and then be screened. Wouldn’t it be awesome if our colorectal cancer rates came down a significant percentage? How many lives is that in the Alaska Native community? It’s not impossible, it’s actually doable.”

Talk to your provider about colorectal cancer screening options if you are 40 or older.

This story was originally published on our blog here.

If you are interested in taking part in the Fiber Study or would like more information, call a study staff member at (907) 229-0712. Read about the study, here.

To learn more about the American Cancer Society, visit their website.


Construction complete on new Education and Training Center

Last fall, construction was completed on new education and training facilities located in the Education and Development Center on the Alaska Native Health Campus. The Consortium’s Education and Development Center will provide Tribal Community Health Providers a place to learn, collaborate and find empowerment and opportunity and strengthen the foundation for rural Alaska care for a brighter, healthier future for Alaska Native people.

In February, our first programs, the Alaska Dental Health Therapy program is moving into the new space.

Check out the full story for more reading and to see more pictures!


Video 2020 Year in Review

Watch highlights of our latest work in our 2020 year in review video.


Alaska Indigenous Research Program

Promoting resilience, health and wellness

The Consortium and Alaska Pacific University (APU) will host the Alaska Indigenous Research Program: Promoting Resilience, Health and Wellness May 10-28, 2021 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Applications for the 2021 program are now open: https://akirp2021.eventbrite.com


Telemedicine research study survey participants needed

Alaska has been a leader in telemedicine innovation and more recently with dramatically improved video teleconferencing capability. ANTHC is researching patients who are 18 and older and diagnosed with a chronic disease and who are being seen by a specialist to complete a brief survey about telemedicine visits. The study is open to people meeting these eligibility criteria, whether you have used telemedicine services or not. Participation is voluntary. Volunteers will be given a small gift for participating. For more information, please contact Tammy Choromanski at (907) 729-2498 or Rabecca Arnold at (907) 729-3253 or email at telemedstudy@anthc.org.