The late Paul John of Toksook Bay is remembered as one of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta’s most respected leaders. Last week, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation honored his legacy and his decades of service as a board member by dedicating its new hospital expansion to the late elder. KYUK was at the dedication ceremony, along with more than one hundred people, writing on a piece of drywall.
“Best wishes," Jennifer Uruvak Stevens of St. Mary’s wrote on the panel.
“God bless,” scribbled Michael Jimmy of Chuloonawick.
“I’m saying 'good job' to those people who made the YKHC hospital," said Bernadette Lewis of Chefornak, as she uncapped a Sharpie.
The drywall panel will be placed somewhere in the new hospital building, and most likely painted over. But the messages, written in black marker by the dedication crowd, will live within it.
YKHC President and CEO Dan Winkelman, with the help of his team, raised $300 million for the hospital project from various federal, state, and private funders. More than half of the funds came from the largest Community Facility Loan ever given by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The project includes building a new primary care facility, renovating the existing hospital, and adding 54 units of staff housing.
It’s the largest construction project in the region, and when it’s done, patients won’t have to cross the highway to get dental or optometry care. The added space and funding means more staff to tend to more patients at the hospital and to travel to villages to provide care.
The entire hospital project is dedicated to Paul John, the respected Toksook Bay elder, who died in 2015 after serving on YKHC’s board since the hospital’s incorporation in 1969. Gloria Simeon is a current board member who served with Paul John for years.
“He would stress that we needed to go back to our teachings and apply them to today, because those teachings are the backbone of who we are as Native people," said Simeon. "It’s the backbone of our culture and those teachings should always, always be kept in the forefront of our brains.”
The hospital project is expected to be completed in 2021.