Local News

New hospital on the horizon

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Wrangell Medical Center has faced a number of issues over the past few years. Finances, personnel turnover, and design changes stalled the plans for building a new hospital.

But now, the plans are back on the table.

And the hospital and its board of directors think the project is heading in the right direction.

It’s been years since the management and board of Wrangell Medical Center first proposed building a new hospital.

Woody Wilson is the chairman of the WMC board of directors.

“Without rehashing all of that, there was so much disagreement between the borough assembly and the hospital board that it just got put on hold,” says Wilson.

Marla Sanger is the interim CEO of WMC. She says that yes, Wrangell already has a hospital—and it works pretty well. But the building is getting older and so is its technology.

“Because of the age of the existing facility, there are many things that are very difficult to keep compliant with current regulatory requirements,” says Sanger.

The operating rooms. Certain areas need to be maintained at specific temperatures and humidity levels.

“So, keeping those kinds of really finely tuned parameters is hard in a building that wasn’t designed to do that,” says Sanger.

But, Woody Wilson says, before it’s built, there needs to be a change in the way the hospital, the board, and the community as a whole approach this project.

“And the government agencies that are going to fund us need to know that we’re working in concert with one another in this community if they’re going to loan us a large sum of money,” says Wilson.

He says the hyped-up disagreements of the past have affected the project’s public image.

“The officials that we’ve talked to have all asked that question. Well, did you stop fighting? That’s basically what they’re asking,” says Wilson.

And the answer is yes. Wilson says the new board of directors is functioning as a cohesive unit. He says it tries to be transparent with its discussions and decisions. And, he says, its relationship with the Borough Assembly is much better than it once was.

Marla Sanger says it will still be a few years before the new hospital is actually built. But it is on the horizon.

She says the next step is to reevaluate the original plans. That doesn’t mean going back to the drawing board completely. It’s just to make sure those ideas still work this many years later.

“I felt it would be in the hospital and community’s best interest to take a fresh look at a couple of things that were really important to the ongoing project,” says Sanger.

One of those is a financial contract. If the project changes, the money may as well. Another is figuring out all of the people actually involved in the project and their different roles.

Sanger is an employee of Ketchikan-based Peace Health. She sent the project documents to a handful of people there who have more experience with this type of design.

She says they’ll be looking to see if things have changed from a regulatory standpoint or in terms of market expectations. That basically means, do the plans meet current standards? And—do patients now still want and need the same things they did a few years ago?

“Maybe the answer will be, well, this is pretty good but you could just change a little of this or a little of that and it might be better,” says Sanger.

“We just need to do our due diligence particularly as a board and as the community to look at this project. We need to make sure the finances are correct and that we’re going to be able to afford what we buy—what we purchase here. It’s not a question of if we’re going to build the hospital. It’s only a question of when and how and how much,” says Wilson.

Sanger says, what the hospital needs most is patience. It’s been a long process but, she says despite the setbacks, this hospital is for the community. So she hopes the community will play an active part in helping it finally come together.


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