SEARHC held its ceremonial groundbreaking on the site of its new hospital in Wrangell in May 2019. (June Leffler/ KSTK)

Work has started on Wrangell’s new hospital. A tribal nonprofit health consortium is replacing the city-owned medical center that had been struggling financially.

Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium – known as SEARHC – officially broke ground Thursday on the site of Wrangell’s new hospital. It was well-attended. City officials and community members showed up, took pictures and helped themselves to complimentary burgers.

SEARHC President Chuck Clement hugging Wrangell’s SEARHC Board Member Lovey Brock at the site of the soon-to-be hospital in town. (June Leffler/ KSTK)

SEARHC’s President Chuck Clement says the Wrangell facility progressed faster than expected.

“It wasn’t but two years ago we really started thinking about this, in a real legitimate way,” says Clement. “And sometimes when a project is right, it can really start to come together.”

The city-owned Wrangell Medical Center has struggled for years. Last fall SEARHC reached a deal with the city to take over health care in town. It wasn’t a straightforward transaction: no money changed hands. Instead, the nonprofit is running Wrangell Medical Center while it builds a new $30 million facility.

Once that’s finished the former hospital will go back to the city. SEARHC will run the new hospital. This arrangement was endorsed by 94 percent of voters who cast ballots last fall.

Wrangell Mayor Steve Prysunka called the deal a lifeboat in desperate times.

“Through a partnership with SEARHC our community is not only ensured that existing services are preserved, but that new and enhanced services are available to all community members.”

Wrangell’s new medical campus with cover 45,000 square feet. Planned are 14 private rooms for long-term care, which has been the bread and butter of Wrangell’s hospital. There will also be an E-R with four beds and four beds for acute care.

SEARHC plans to have the new facility complete by 2021.