A map of Alaska with the Southcentral / Municipality of Anchorage region highlighted.
Organization: Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center
City: Anchorage
Region: Southcentral / Municipality of Anchorage
Program Area: Health \ Health clinic
Grants Received:
2014: $21,781  2001: $193,531
2012: $675,000  2000: $25,000
2010: $500,000  1999: $3,700
2008: $25,000  1998: $19,500
2004: $388,000
2003: $300,000

All comers treated with dignity and compassion

Mission Statement
Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center

To promote wellness by providing the highest quality care with compassion and accessible services for our community.
"This is Alaska. You can do everything," she sings. Pony-tailed Maria, her black eyes shining, is pretend-reading to her pretend-audience in the waiting room of the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center. Only six, she holds out her book about dinosaurs to show off illustrations, keeping up a steady banter. "You brush your teeth…shush shush shush. You brush your teeth each morning." She makes the most of this waiting time on a rainy October evening. It's quiet except for three young women softly talking over the hum of a heater and distant fax machine. While Maria and her
father wait, she entertains her imaginary group, and he leafs through a picture book of purple and hot pink dinosaurs just like hers.

A photo of a doctor checking a baby's heartbeat with a stethoscope.Spacer Image She whispers to him in Spanish. "Draw for me." He pulls out a ballpoint to sketch a figure. She begs for more. Then she's on her feet, twirling across the room. "I know everything," she chants.

You're sure of it when she comes close to point out an art teacher in a ceramic mural on the wall and continues ticking off the school nurse, a soccer player tossing his orange ball, and a girl with red lips as wide as a teacup.

The waiting room begins to fill with the sound of many languages. Everyone is hoping for Marias. They're counting on staff to know everything, to answer their questions, to make them feel better, to test their babies' hearing and their blood for HIV, to check breast lumps and broken arms, myriad aches and pains.

An exterior photo of the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center. Spacer Image Two clinics in Mountain View and Fairview treat nearly 14,000 patients each year, regardless of their ability to pay. They are a contrast in cutting edge – think electronic record-keeping and HIV treatment - and the tried and true. For thirty-five years all comers have been treated with dignity and compassion. Education and prevention are a big part of the center's mission. That might include nutrition and well-baby care – even art classes. Framed charcoal drawings from an art-as-healing class encircle the room.

Pediatrician Bruce Chandler, wearing his trademark blue button-down, red bow tie, and ever-present smile, worries about the cost of medical care for his small charges. He tells of a boy with a broken arm who returned for a check-up after three weeks with his arm still unset because his parents couldn't afford treatment. His bones had fused at an odd angle.

Antibiotics aren't cheap. A course of treatment for pneumonia can cost $100. If Dr. Chandler can find a way to get his patients their medications immediately, he will. He may even pay for taxi fare to transport a family from the Mountain View clinic where he sees patients each afternoon to the pharmacy at the Fairview clinic where drugs cost less.

His success stories? "Seeing kids breathing and smiling," he says, his own eyes crinkling. "Some kids I saw as children bring their kids in to see me."

Dr. Chandler frets because his families face many hardships. Often they work two jobs and have few resources. One of the most important things he does is commend parents on the job they're doing. "It's hard for them to get recognition."

As medical officer for the municipality, Dr. Chandler is well aware of public health in the community. There's been a surge in TB among the homeless, and the neighborhood health centers step up to provide the six to nine months of therapy for patients with the disease.

Always there to lend a hand, to find a surgeon who will donate services, to step in when it looks as if all avenues for treatment are closed, to do whatever it takes for those who can pay, as well as for those who cannot, the neighborhood health centers are beacons for anyone in need of healthcare.

Back in the waiting room, Maria ends her play. "Yaya," she calls to her grandmother who shuffles behind her walker from an exam room, "how're you doing?" Maria and her mother and father gather around Yaya to slip her arms into her jacket, to pat her shoulder. Walking close, they head outside into the soft rain, nodding thanks to a woman at the desk.

Lynn Hallquist is an Anchorage writer and contributor to the public radio show AK and the Anchorage Daily News feature Alaska Notebook.

Photographs © 2006 D'zine Alaska/DonPoynter