It is deeply disappointing to see that the Alaska Dispatch News is so distracted by SCF’s exaggerated allegations that it missed the real story and has misled its readers in the process. ANTHC’s leadership struggled for years with the very questions that many readers are asking – is it possible to provide more services for Alaska Natives by paying employees less? The answer is no – it is unsustainable.
For many, many years, ANTHC paid below market wages. As we’ve noted elsewhere, ANTHC’s options were limited because of chronic underpayments by the federal government. Despite that, ANTHC made significant strides in improving services. But we eventually found ourselves struggling to make ends meet and lost some of our best employees.
We could not meet their reasonable expectations to be paid fairly after years of devoted service, and ended up relying on “interim” employees from the Lower 48 who demanded exorbitant amounts for substandard results. This ultimately cost us more than it would have, had we paid our own employees fairly.
As we dug into the issue, we learned that we had set the pay of some executives at a mere fraction of the market, even when they were Alaska Native and had considerably more skill and experience than others. We also learned that when we underpaid executives, we were not “saving” money that could be used for health care; we were just leaving money on the table that we were entitled to use to ensure we could provide the best for our people.
Understanding that we could pay fair rates without taking anything away from patients, the Board of Directors ultimately decided to pay all employees at market rates to ensure Alaska Native employees were compensated as much as we would pay anyone else. In the case of several top executives, including Andy Teuber – who has a significant day-to-day role in addition to being chairman – we set their pay higher than what they were asking. We did not think it was appropriate to delay paying them appropriate levels just because they had graciously worked for far less in prior years.
Some people have questioned whether executives can and do really work more than 80 hours a week. The answer is yes, although we are aware of the need to find and develop more leaders who can take on some of that work before our current employees burn out.
We understand why people might be sensitive; we felt the same way. But it did not help us stabilize our leadership or expand access to care. We believe we made the right decision and the results we are seeing validate that. For example, specialty services at ANMC have increased to 152,000 visits this year. This represents a 67 percent increase in the last six years. ANTHC also added 1,000 jobs to the Alaska economy in the past 10 years.
But, more importantly, while we are defending our decision to pay market rates, people are missing the real story. The lawsuit SCF filed plainly reveals that it is not about compensation – that is just window dressing to distract everyone, and the ADN fell for it.
SCF is asking the court to help it leverage a seat on the ANTHC Board to access competitively sensitive information for its own advantage. SCF wants more influence than the 12 other regional health organizations and the 229 federally recognized tribes who are served by ANTHC. It appears that SCF seeks more influence because it has found a way to siphon money out of the system for its own benefit, while rationing care for the Alaska Native people who rely on it. ANTHC has tried to work out our differences, but it is clear that SCF picked this fight as part of a larger strategy to gain far more control over the Alaska Tribal Health System than Congress and the rest of the ANTHC Board, who represent the remaining tribal health organizations, believe is appropriate.
We hear the concerns. But it’s important to keep in mind these actions will help ensure ANTHC remains a competitive, world class health organization for years to come.
We will continue to make responsible decisions to expand access to health care, and we will remain steadfast in pursuing our mission to provide the highest quality medical services to all of our people.