Construction is underway for an assisted living facility in Unalakleet, the first building of its kind in the entire Norton Sound region.
Robert Dickens is the project manager for this new facility, which is being spearheaded by the Native village of Unalakleet.
“There’s a total of ten rooms for occupants,” he said. “Two of them are independent living, and the other eight will be for those that have Alzheimer’s or dementia problems. And then we will have two to three personal care attendants [working] ‘round the clock.”
According to Dickens, the Native village has been working to provide services for elders in the region for the past 15 years or so. It is not necessary for a full-time doctor or nursing staff to be at the facility, so Norton Sound Health Corporation will only be a partner in the project as needed.
“What brought a lot of this on is Unalakleet and many of the Norton Sound villages have seen their elders when they get to the point where they can’t receive care from their family, then they get shipped off to Soldotna, Anchorage, Fairbanks and different places, and they deteriorate pretty quickly in that scenario,” he said.
As Dickens states, just because the region’s elders are old in years, they still have things to offer their families and communities. So this new assisted living facility in Unalakaleet will give elders in the region an option to receive services in a location closer to their home communities.
Dickens mentions that even though it’s not his realm of expertise, he believes the assisted living facility will be operated similarly to Quyanna Care Center in Nome when it comes to choosing residents and occupants for the ten available rooms.
The project is estimated to cost $7.7 million, so Dickens has been requesting funds from several organizations, including Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation, Norton Sound Health Corporation, and Bering Straits Native Corporation.
Last week, the Rasmuson Foundation joined the list, by awarding the project $649,730. Todd Shenk, a senior program officer at the Rasmuson Foundation, says the assisted living facility was given a Tier 2 grant from the Foundation because of the need it will fill in Unalakleet and the region.
“We do believe that all Alaskans deserve to age in their own communities and be with family in their home community,” he said. “This project will allow elders from Unalakleet and other villages in the region to stay at home when they need a little extra assistance.”
During the Rasmuson Foundation’s latest board meeting in November, the Foundation selected almost 20 projects across the state to award funds to, including Kawerak, Inc. According to the Foundation, Kawerak’s Head Start building in Nome will receive roughly $260,000 to expand its program and serve more children.
The Unalakleet elders’ assisted living facility project is not fully funded yet, but project manager Dickens says he hopes to find other block grants and is anticipating the facility will be completed by fall of 2019.
According to Dickens, the construction crew on the project, with 40 percent of its force being local hires, is taking a break for the holidays. Construction should resume in January or early February.