Unalaska has welcomed a handful of new community leaders in the last few months.
That includes James Kaech, the new executive director at Iliuliuk Family and Health Services.
KUCB's Laura Kraegel sat down with Kaech to ask how he made his way to Unalaska’s clinic.
JAMES KAECH: I was third generation U.S. Army, and I was a medic. When I graduated high school, I was supposed to go to veterinarian school. I was a Future Farmer of America, and I had a little mini pig farm. I just fell into medicine by accident, going into the service, and it naturally grew from there. I assisted in orthopedic surgery. I worked for a podiatry clinic. I was stationed in Hawaii the whole time.
Then when I got out, I went to work for a lab in Olympia, Washington. I also went to work at Capital Medical Center. That’s a for-profit health system hospital. Took over the rural health clinic in Elma. Turned it around. When I first started at Capital with the clinic, it was about a $200,000 a year budget. When I left, I grew it to about 13 practices and about $28 million a year.
KUCB: That’s pretty remarkable growth. And a wide variety of experience on your end.
JK: It was a lot of variety. New starts, takeovers, acquisitions. And that’s what really excited me about Unalaska. I knew they were in trouble, and I get bored easily. I like challenges and I’m a high-energy person, so it was a perfect opportunity for me.
KUCB: Now that you’ve been on the job a few months, what are you focused on at the clinic?
JK: Well, we’re doing almost a full overhaul. Everything from the fee schedule -- the fees are really high -- to the billing practice. [Patients] get their first bill and it says “delinquent.” They’re not billing the primary or secondary [insurances] correctly. So I’m looking at all of that.
We also went to the City Council, trying to get some assistance to get us over this growing phase of trying to cut things back. Trying to get the patients back in and get the revenue back up by volume, not by price.
KUCB: What should folks expect once you’ve finished adjusting the fee scale?
JK: I think we’re going to be one of the lowest in Alaska. That’s kind of my goal. I don’t want such a high fee schedule that patients are afraid to come see us. I want to make it fair. I really want to make it so we’re the No. 1 choice.
We’ve got great providers. We’ve got three full-time and three that come in on a regular basis so they’re known to the community. They provide great service. So instead of patients waiting or going to Anchorage or going back to Seattle because of the price and the issues, we want them [to say], “We want to go to the clinic. We want to support the local clinic.”
KUCB: How long do you plan to stay in Unalaska?
JK: Well, I signed a two-year contract with an option for a third. My wife’s here with me. I have five grown kids at home and two grandkids. Like I said, I’m at the phase right now where I’m just trying to fix [the clinic.]
But it is something I’ve talked to my wife about long-term because I love fishing. My wife and I and the dogs go hiking up through the valleys. To me, it’s just wonderful. The rec center. I’ve been refereeing some basketball and my house hasn’t gotten egged yet, so I must not be doing too bad of a job. But I love to get out there. I love being in the community and being a part of it. And this is the nicest place in that it’s really easy to get involved.