ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- Gov. Sean Parnell on Thursday signed a bill that authorizes $35 million in bonds to build a residential housing unit on the Anchorage campus of the Alaska Native Medical Center.
The housing facility will have 170 rooms and will have a pedestrian bridge to the hospital. The medical center currently has a 110-bed capacity.
Parnell signed the bill in front of about 200 tribal health leaders at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium office on the same campus. Also attending were two main sponsors of the legislation, state Sens. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, and Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage.
"With 143,000 Alaskans already using this medical center, the great need for health-related housing is well established here," Parnell said.
The bill authorizes financing, construction and equipping the residential center. Construction is scheduled to start in March
Parnell said the new housing unit will allow families to stay closer together while getting care in Anchorage, and gives Alaska Natives and American Indians greater access to health services.
Besides family members of people receiving care at the hospital, patients like a high-risk pregnant woman, an elder recovering from a stroke or an accident victim in long-term recovery were examples given of those who would use the facility.
Another important aspect of the building will be a kitchen, where families can prepare traditional foods, which Parnell said would aid in a patient's recovery.
"With the new housing facility that SB 88 authorizes, people can support their families in a homelike environment, and this will be a place where cultures and traditions are not only accepted, but they are honored," said Valerie Davidson, a senior director of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.
"They can even cook their own traditional food when they're tired of eating Anchorage food," she said.
She noted the importance of housing from her own experience. When she was 4, she was burned over 20 percent of body. While she spent nearly four months at the Alaska Native Medical Center, her mother could only stay for two weeks because other families needed the space.