Sunday, June 2News That Matters

Maniilaq Association in Northwest Alaska Hires Security Guards to Ensure Health Aide Safety


Eunice Carter, Community Health Practitioner supervisor at Maniilaq Association, recently shared her experiences and concerns as a health aide in Northwest Alaska. Carter spoke at the Buckland clinic on Aug. 29, and addressed the growing issue of violence in village clinics.

Carter has been working as a health aide in the region for 23 years and has responded to numerous dangerous calls during her career. One incident that stands out to her is when she was performing CPR on a child in a family’s home and a member of the family told her and other female health professionals in the room that if they didn’t save the relative, no one would live. Carter and her colleagues effectively de-escalated the situation by suggesting the patient be brought to the local clinic to receive necessary medication.

The incident is representative of the dangerous situations health aides in Northwest Alaska often face. According to Kenneth Turner, Maniilaq Health Center safety officer, factors contributing to the rise in violence in village clinics include elevated stress levels, staffing shortages during the pandemic, and increased drug use.

Due to the heightened safety concerns, the Maniilaq Association initiated a pilot program to bring security guards to Kiana, Kivalina, Noorvik, and Selawik to assist health professionals working at the clinics. The goal of the program is to ensure that health aides and other personnel can focus on providing quality health care without worrying about their safety.

Health aides in the region often respond to crisis scenarios while providing health care services, ranging from domestic violence and substance abuse incidents to mental health crises. The rise in violence during the COVID-19 pandemic has been attributed to factors such as increased stress, isolation, and the availability of illegal drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine in the villages.

Maniilaq saw an increase in reported incidents of verbal attacks and physical violence in clinics, with a shift towards more intense forms of violence. This has led to an increase in health care workers experiencing anxiety, panic, exhaustion, and, in some cases, leaving their jobs.

To address safety concerns, Maniilaq implemented the security guard program, initially hiring four guards to work at the most populated villages with documented incidents of violence. The corporation has allocated $500,000 to the program and plans to hire additional security guards to cover potential gaps in coverage.

While the security personnel will only be present within health care facilities, concerns remain about addressing safety concerns outside of the clinics. Maniilaq acknowledges the need for a multifaceted approach, including hiring more village public safety officers, developing emergency medical services in the villages, and providing CPR training and first responder training.