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Alaska Department of Health turns down new hospital facility in South Anchorage


Alaska Department of Health turns down new hospital facility in South Anchorage

Oct 02, 2023 | 10:00 pm ET
By James Brooks
Alaska Department of Health turns down new hospital facility in South Anchorage
The offices of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services are seen in Juneau on Friday, July 1, 2022. The department has since been split into two separate agencies. (Photo by Lisa Phu/Alaska Beacon)

The Alaska Department of Health has rejected a new $18 million emergency hospital facility in South Anchorage, saying in an analysis that there isn’t enough demand for it.

In a public notice published Friday, the state said it will not issue what is known as a “certificate of need” for the facility. Alaska is one of 35 states that requires new hospitals and medical facilities to obtain permission from the state before opening their doors, but rejections tend to be rare.

The new facility was planned by Alaska Regional Hospital, a for-profit hospital operated by Hospital Corporation of America. 

Writing on Thursday to the hospital, Health Commissioner Heidi Hedberg said that Anchorage’s shrinking population and other demographic factors indicate “ a negative emergency department treatment bed need over the next five years” in Anchorage.

In addition, emergency care is more expensive than primary care, urgent care or crisis care, she said.

“Among key program goals is the reduction of emergency room visits and increased utilization of preventative services,” Hedberg wrote.

As planned by Alaska Regional Hospital, the 10,860-square-foot emergency center would have included 12 emergency treatment rooms, a CT scanner, X-ray machine, cardiac monitors and other equipment.

In documents submitted in support of its certificate of need, the hospital said that the population of South Anchorage is growing, and with it, demand for emergency services.

The number of emergency room visits at Alaska Regional Hospital is on the rise, the hospital said.

But staff for the Department of Health said in their final analysis that South Anchorage should be considered part of Anchorage when considering demand for medical treatment. 

Staff also identified other problems with the proposal, including the increased expense and time involved with transporting patients between a new South Anchorage building and the city’s U-Med district, home to Anchorage’s other hospitals.

The state’s decision could be appealed administratively. By email, Alaska Regional Hospital CEO Jennifer Opsut didn’t rule out that possibility.

“While we are disappointed with this decision, we believe there is a need for more emergency care in our community and remain focused on finding ways to enhance our services and bring our quality care to more Alaskans,” she said. “We’re carefully reviewing the feedback provided by the Department of Health to determine our next steps.”