Alaska News Nightly: March 22, 2012

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Hearing Opens For Possible Movie Production Incentive Expansion

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

A special State House Finance subcommittee opened hearings Thursday on a bill to continue to expand a program offering tax incentives for production companies making movies in Alaska.

Polling Data Gauging Legislative Issue Importance Released

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

The Majority Caucus in the Alaska House of Representatives has released some new polling data that seeks to gauge the importance of issues being addressed by the Legislature.

Subsistence Board Won’t Release Angoon Decision

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Federal Subsistence Board for Alaska will not release its position on a village corporation’s petition to change management of nearby state fisheries.

Three Federal Courts In Alaska Could Be Closed

Associated Press & Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

The federal government is considering closing three courthouses in Alaska. According to documents obtained by the Associated Press, courthouses in Juneau, Ketchikan and Fairbanks could be shut down as part of an effort to cut costs. If all three did close, the only active federal courthouse in Alaska would be in Anchorage. Senator Lisa Murkowski responded to the news in a statement, saying, “it’s penny-wise, pound-foolish to remove three out of our four active courthouses and ask all Alaskans to travel to Anchorage for legal proceedings.”

Up to 60 court sites in 29 states could be closed. The government ranked the court sites that could be shut down based on categories such as usage and location. A similar list of potential court closures is generated every two years.

Providence Hospital Tests New Breed Of Medical Professional: Health Coaches

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Most of us want to be healthier. But motivating to do anything about can be difficult. Now a new kind of health professional could help. They’re called health coaches.  In Anchorage, Providence Hospital thinks it’s a model that could help transform the health care system in the years ahead. And for the last few years, they’ve been testing the idea with employees.

Every morning, Shannon Orley parks as far away as possible from her office.

And on the sprawling Providence hospital complex, that is really far away.

“Right around a thousand steps each way. Definitely worth it,” Orley said.

It’s below zero on a recent morning. But thanks to the hospital’s extensive sky bridge system, Shannon’s walk is mostly indoors – with impressive views of the Chugach Mountains along the way.

“It’s beautiful and you see moose a lot of times running- well not running, they kind of walk- on the trails underneath the sky bridge,” Orley said.

Two years ago, Shannon was obese. And she faced a dilemma. She had just taken a job helping coordinate Providence’s employee wellness program. But her own wellness was far off track. She drank the equivalent of six sodas a day in Big Gulps, loved fast food and didn’t exercise much. So she decided to take advantage of one of the hospital’s new benefit’s – health coaching. At first, the lifestyle changes she made were very small.

“We started out where my goal was to take the stairs instead of the elevator once a day. Not even more than that but just really manageable,” she said.

Soon Shannon was drinking more water and less soda. She began walking regularly and attending Pilates classes. She kicked her fast food habit. She lost 50 pounds. Last year, 300 of Providence’s 2,800 employees in Anchorage tried health coaching. Shannon’s Coach, Kelly Heithold, says her clients have finally made the decision to change.

“When they actually make that step and make an appointment with me, they’re ready. And they say help me. I know what I need to do I just don’t know how to get there,” Heithold said.

Health coaches are still rare in the medical profession. But they are becoming more popular as chronic and often preventable diseases like type 2 diabetes consume more and more health care dollars. Tammy Green heads up Providence’s extensive employee wellness program. She thinks coaches are an important piece of the health care puzzle that’s been missing. She says nobody wants to be overweight.

“And I think that’s kind of the fallacy that we’ve kind of had this traditional approach that people just don’t want to change. But really at the core, everybody wants to be healthy. They really do. We just have not been able to help them achieve those goals with our traditional approach,” Green said.

In three years of health coaching, Providence has seen a small but steady decrease in the number of obese employees – from 36 percent in 2009 to 32 percent in 2011. Green says blood pressure and cholesterol levels are lower. And fewer employees are smoking. She says it’s a good start.

“Something’s happening and you can pretty much assure yourself that if we hadn’t been doing anything, we certainly wouldn’t be seeing those trends,” Green said.

Green likes to think big. And she makes a convincing argument that health coaches will play a major role in the health care system in the years ahead. Green is talking with the University of Alaska and Alaska Pacific University about starting programs to train health coaches. There aren’t any national education standards yet for health coaching. But Margaret Moore, who co-directs the Institute of Coaching at Mclean Hospital in Boston, is working to change that. Her institute has trained most of the country’s health coaches, about 6,000.

“There’s some ways to go for this to become mainstream, but there’s a reasonable army now of health professionals that have become coaches in this last ten years,” Moore said.

She expects the profession to grow steadily. Especially now that Medicare has started paying for up to 20 obesity counseling sessions a year. But Moore acknowledges there’s debate in the medical field over whether health coaching should be a separate profession or just a new skill set for existing providers. She thinks both are essential.

“Just like other health professions, the more skilled the provider, the better the results. I think everyone appreciates that. So I think we need to create a cadre of really the best coaches and help all health professionals be able to do at least a competent job at using these skills,” Moore said.

Back at Providence, Shannon Orley has reached an intersection on her walk to work. And like a former smoker trying to resist a nicotine urge, she has an important choice to make.

“As you can see on the left side we have our bank of elevators ready to rock, on the right side, we have the stairs,” Orley said.

On this day, Shannon doesn’t hesitate, but she says some days it’s a tough decision.

“You know every time I go to reach for the elevator button there’s a little voice in the back of my head. Kelly asking me, really is this going to make you feel better? Is this part of your goal? Is this where you’re headed?,” she said.

And with her coach’s help- healthy choices have started to feel better and better.

This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Air Force To Assess Projected Savings From Moving Eielson F-16s

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

An Air Force team headed to Alaska next month will assess projected savings from moving Eielson Air Forces Base’s F-16 squadron to Joint base Elmendorf Richardson in Anchorage.  The site activation task force team is scheduled to be at Eielson April 11-14 and at J-BER the 1618.  Pacific Air Force Public Affairs Director Colonel Maria Carl in Hawaii says the team will look at all aspects of moving the F-16 squadron.

Preparation, Planning Could Have Averted White Mountains Rescue

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A weekend rescue in the White Mountains National Recreation Area could have been avoided with some basic preparation and planning.  Local musher Peg Billingsly and an out of state client were picked up by Alaska Wildlife Troopers Sunday after miscommunications and dog trouble left them stranded at two separate locations. Both women are OK, but BLM spokesman Craig McCaa says the incident points out how easy it is for things to go wrong in the wilderness, even along marked and groomed trails in the White Mountains.

Petersburg Will Weigh In On New Legislative Boundaries

Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg

Alaska’s redistricting board will be hearing from Petersburg again as it puts together a new plan for the state’s legislative boundaries. The Petersburg City Council voted this week to re-submit a proposal that it remain in a district with Sitka instead of being bundled with the much larger city of Juneau.

Salmon Commission Helping Sitka Sound Center’s Hatchery Program

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

The hatchery program at the Sitka Sound Science Center is getting a helping hand from the Pacific Salmon Commission.

The center has been awarded $130,000 in grant funding to improve the hatchery’s water intake system, which was originally built around the turn of the 20th century to float logs to the sawmill at the Sheldon Jackson Training School.