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Physician Assistant in Fairbanks to a Vending Machine in Interior Alaska: Witnessing Tribal Health

Posted: October 23, 2018

The following was written by and from the perspective of Eric D. Hargan, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

A key piece to success in serving the American people involves going to them in person and hearing what is important in their lives. That was the reason that a large delegation from HHS recently made the trip to the interior of Alaska.

Our delegation visited with Alaska Native community leaders and families in Allakaket, Alatna, Hughes, Koyukuk, Manley, Tanana, Rampart, and Fairbanks. Through community meetings and tours of healthcare facilities, we heard about everything from the latest in Telehealth technology and medicine “vending machines” to Head Start and eldercare and the continuing challenges of clean drinking water and waste disposal.

In addition to helping to enhance HHS’s understanding of the challenges faced by remote tribal communities, the tour informed our meeting with the Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee (STAC), which convened in Fairbanks on September 24 and 25.

During our community visits, it became abundantly clear that the quality of care offered in Alaska Native health facilities should be a point of pride for everyone involved in tribal health.  Alaska Native healthcare providers build on the strengths of tribal culture, customs and community to deliver an impressive whole-of-person approach to care.  Patient needs, community providers, and community leaders are driving the delivery of quality healthcare.

Providing care in rural and remote areas is a challenge—one of the most significant problems American healthcare faces.  The challenges are especially substantial in Alaska, America’s most sparsely populated state, and in other parts of Indian Country.

The trip to Alaska was a significant opportunity to hear about the challenges that rural and tribal communities face in obtaining access to health care, especially when it comes to mental health and substance abuse. Moreover, it was an excellent chance to see solutions to these challenges and highlighted the good work in these communities.


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