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Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation

Helping Hands logo.Project Overview

This project of the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation (BBAHC), also called Ikayurtem Unatai (Helping Hands in Yup'ik), responded to the needs of people dying in isolated, rural village communities in southwest Alaska. For many Alaska Natives, living in the rugged land of their ancestors surrounded by natural beauty adds quality and meaning to life. Currently, many Alaska Natives are forced to leave their villages for hospitals in Dillingham or Anchorage to receive medical care as they die. They often spend the last days of their lives away from family, friends and their community, putting them at significant risk for suffering.

In this program, Alaska's community health aides served dying patients in 34 southwestern Alaska villages, while receiving consultation and direction via radio or phone from medical staff in Dillingham.

In addition, trained volunteers cared for dying patients and offered support to grieving families. These volunteers were trained utilizing the highly successful Volunteer Emergency Medical Service Program. Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation also developed a curriculum and training program for all its health care workers on death, dying and hospice care.

As a result of the program, far more elders are dying at home or close to home. The culturally relevant materials provided a mechanism for elders and others to learn about the program and understand what it means to them. Program materials (see “Tools” section below), although originally developed for Alaska Native/American Indians can be modified for other cultures.



After the Grant

Skeletal program sustained in Bristol Bay; replication underway via recent award of five-year $1.6m National Cancer Institute grant to Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) to establish a palliative care training program for health care providers of Alaska Natives.

Contact Information

Principal Investigator:
Robert Swope
Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation
6000 Kanakanak Road
PO Box 130
Dillingham, AK 99576
Phone: 907.842.3405
Fax: 907.842.3406
Email: [email protected]

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Promoting Excellence in End-of-Life Care was a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation dedicated to long-term changes in health care institutions to substantially improve care for dying people and their families.