SEARHC closes wilderness program for at-risk youth in Wrangell

An Alaska Island Community Services sign above the Alaska Crossings office entrance. AICS used to run the Crossings program, before it was absorbed by SEARHC.
(Photo by Sage Smiley/KSTK)

Wrangell is losing one of its largest private sector employers. Alaska Crossings, a wilderness program for at-risk youth, has been anchored on the island for more than two decades.

Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium announced in a statement Wednesday that, effective immediately, the wilderness expedition program would be permanently closed and resources consolidated with Raven’s Way — its other adolescent residential treatment program in Sitka.

That effectively dissolves the Wrangell-based behavioral health program that led wilderness expedition trips each summer for teens in Tongass National Forest.

The announcement was not completely unexpected. SEARHC had said it was exploring options for the Crossings program over the last year. At one point in 2020 it was considering moving some or all of the program to Sitka. But that didn’t happen.

At the time, Wrangell’s tribal government passed a resolution opposing Crossings’ move out of town, citing the program’s economic and social importance to the community of Wrangell.

Crossings employed more than 20 staffers in its Wrangell office, plus around 50 seasonal guides, and led expeditions for an average of 120 young people each year.

In a statement, SEARHC wrote that the COVID-19 pandemic had a big impact on its adolescent residential treatment programs. The tribal health provider stated that rising costs, lower patient enrollment and staffing issues forced SEARHC to reconsider its residential treatment structure.

SEARHC spokesperson Maegan Bosak wrote in an email that when Crossings was dissolved on January 12, it employed 16 people in Wrangell. Four of those employees were offered positions in Sitka, she said, and 12 were offered “commensurate positions” in Wrangell.

She added that at the height of the summer 2021 season, there were 25 seasonal guide positions in town, who oversaw 16 Crossings expeditions.

It’s unclear whether that applies to seasonal guides, some of whom had already been given shift schedules for the upcoming summer season. SEARHC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Wrangell Mayor Steve Prysunka, who helped found the program in 2001, declined to comment.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more details from SEARHC and to correct the spelling of Wrangell Mayor Steve Pyrsunka’s last name.

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