Four people standing at the top of a staircase at the exterior of a clinic. They are together cutting a ribbon tied at the top of the stairs.

The people of Shishmaref turned out by the dozens on Sept. 10 to watch as community leaders and Norton Sound Health Corporation administrators cut the ribbon stretched symbolically across the entrance stairs of the village’s new clinic.

In their speeches, Angie Gorn, NSHC’s CEO, and Preston Rookok, Chairman of the NSHC Board of Directors, praised the cooperation between Shishmaref and NSHC.

“We are really, really grateful that we worked so closely with the Native Village of Shishmaref,” Gorn said.

“We appreciate each of the leadership in our communities — meaning our tribal council, our city council, our corporation boards — working together with Dr. Peterson and Angie and the staff,” Rookok said.

When it came to the clinic itself, everyone seemed to agree on the number-one benefit it provides.

“A bigger clinic to meet our needs,” Molly Snell, NSHC’s clinic travel specialist in Shishmaref, said.

“With more exam rooms, you can just offer more appointment slots,” Gorn said.

“There was just limited room in that old clinic,” Howard Weyiouanna, mayor of Shishmaref, said.

At 5400 square feet, the new clinic has about three times the space of the old clinic. That means it can provide care for many more people at once.

Not only is the new clinic larger, it also has more specialized equipment, including dedicated dental facilities, according to Gorn.

Inside the new Shishmaref clinic which includes designated rooms for dental procedures. Photo by Sean Milligan, KNOM. Sep 2021.

“Without a larger clinic, you’ll have dental come in with all the equipment, either set up in an extra room in the clinic, or operate out of the school. All the new clinics now are able to accommodate dental and dental will have its own operatory,” Gorn said.

This is the fifth new clinic NSHC has built over the past five years, and two more are yet to come. NSHC started construction on a new clinic in St. Michael this year, and will start on a new clinic in Wales next year.

“After the new hospital was constructed, our board of directors wanted to ensure that every community had a new, larger clinic to meet the needs of the community,” Gorn said.

NSHC is using the same blueprint for the clinic in St. Michael as it used in Shishmaref, but will build the clinic in Wales to a smaller blueprint.

As for the fate of Shishmaref’s old clinic?

“Norton Sound Health Corporation is looking to work with the city to purchase the old clinic, and we’d like to convert that to housing. And that will allow this community, for the first time then, to have their own mid-level. Housing has really been a constraint for that,” Gorn said. A “mid-level” is a physician assistant, she explained.

While the ribbon-cutting ceremony happened on Sept. 10, the new clinic opened to patients on Aug. 30.

Image at top: Shishmaref Mayor Howard Weyiouanna, elder Elizabeth Nayokpuk, NSHC Board Chair Preston Rookok, NSHC Shishmaref Director Mollie Ningeulook, and NSHC Executive Committee Member Matilda Hardy cut the ribbon at the top of the stairs leading into the new clinic. Photo by Sean Milligan, KNOM. Sep 2021.