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Dillingham Public Health Center is without a local nurse, remains open

Dillingham Public Health Center. Photo taken 2019.
Isabelle Ross, KDLG
Dillingham Public Health Center. Photo taken 2019.

Dillingham Public Health Center has been without a public health nurse for about three weeks. It is still open and provides services in several ways.

The office is open to phone calls and walk-ins. The office assistant can provide at-home COVID tests and NARCAN rescue kits. They can also assist clients in finding care.

“If someone is in need of medical help, she will refer to Kanakanak, to the hospital, Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation and community partners,” explained Shelly Foint-Anderson, the nurse manager for Dillingham and Fairbanks Public Health Centers. “If it's someone who just wants to talk to a public health nurse, or just have some generalized public health type questions, those calls are routed to Fairbanks Public Health Center.”

The Dillingham Public Health Center typically provides a variety of screenings, exams and some treatments for a sliding-scale fee. These include screening and treatment for tuberculosis, screenings for sexually transmitted infections, and vaccinations.

Foint-Anderson said that she is planning to send a temporary public health nurse to provide these services for “one or two weeks, sometime in May.” She is also planning her own quarterly site visit, likely in June.

“I will see clients if they need to be seen, I will do community work, attend meetings, but at least we will have that presence. And we'll be working with a hospital to provide perhaps childhood vaccines or other types of services that folks need right now,” said Foint-Anderson.

An advanced nurse practitioner who specializes in reproductive health and family planning also visits Dillingham quarterly.

There is a global shortage of public health nurses. Foint-Anderson said that deficit is making it difficult to fill positions.

“I think healthcare, in general, is suffering. This particular year, many public health nurses were at retirement age. I will admit that there is some exhaustion and some burnout, some folks want to change and do something different,” said Foint-Anderson. “Throughout the state of Alaska, many of the public health centers are searching for staff.”