New technology will help Unalaska clinic to provide better emergency care

Iliukliuk Family and Health Services' eICU system will go online in September. (Photo by Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

Iliukliuk Family and Health Services’ eICU system will go online in September. (Photo by
Laura Kraegel/KUCB)

Unalaska’s clinic will soon be the first community health center in Alaska with an electronic intensive care unit, or eICU.

That’s a type of telemedicine technology that’ll connect healthcare providers at Iliuliuk Family and Health Services with specialists in Anchorage.

Officially, the local clinic is a community health center, which means it’s only supposed to provide primary care and some urgent care.

But the reality is a little different.

With Unalaska’s isolated location and unpredictable weather, the clinic often has to provide emergency care for patients can’t get off the island, such as people who are suffering from cardiac or respiratory problems, infections or strokes and even traumatic injuries.

The problem is the clinic doesn’t have an emergency physician, but that’s where the eICU comes in.

While patients are in Unalaska, their vitals will be sent directly to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. Providence ICU staff will work side-by-side with local providers to treat patients in real time. The technology even includes video monitoring, so doctors and nurses can see exactly what’s going on from 800 miles away.

According to Medical Director Ann Nora Ehret, that means better care for patients until it’s safe to move them off the island.

“For us, this is about having that expert right there and accessible, whether it’s an intensive care nurse or if we need the level of an intensive care doctor,” said Ehret.

She said the eICU will also benefit Unalaska’s providers, who can breathe easier knowing they have the resources of a bigger hospital behind them.

“As rural practitioners, we tend to have a lot more comfort with collaboration,” said Ehret. “So I see this as part of the team approach to our patients, who are presenting to us with critical care needs 24/7.”

At nearly $100,000, the clinic’s eICU was funded by a federal grant. But outgoing Executive Director Eileen Conlon Scott said the program could start a trend for other community health centers in rural Alaska.

“We have other CHCs that are very interested in this,” said Conlon Scott. “As soon as we’re up and running, there’ll be a few people flying in who want to see it because there’s an interest for them as well. They’re just as rural.”

Unalaska’s clinic is finishing setting up the eICU now. The system should go online in mid-September.

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