Melanee Tiura steps down as director of the IFHS clinic

The director of the Iliuliuk Family and Health Services clinic is stepping down after more than two years at the head of the Unalaska clinic.

Melanee Tiura will take up an administrator position at Providence Medical Center in Valdez. His last day at IFHS is December 10.

Tiura was hired in September 2019 after a seven month search. She took over from interim manager Will Rodgers, who stepped in after former manager James Kaech resigned.

Tiura was recently nominated for the City’s Extra Mile Award for her role in helping the community weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hope McKenney from KUCB sat down with Tiura to talk about her time on the island, the pandemic and the aftermath.


HOPE MCKENNEY: You moved to the island a little over two years ago. Most of your time as head of the clinic has been spent during a global pandemic. How did this affect both the clinic and the way you had to do your job?

MÉLANÉE TIURA: Whoa. So yeah, nobody’s predicting a pandemic, right, I could never have predicted that this would be what would be, you know, the focus of the last year and a half, two years. It probably changed everything in all of our jobs in one way or another. For us, you know, we didn’t have the luxury of going remote. We tried very difficult telemedicine visits based on the internet, based on our patient’s internet, not necessarily ours. But for the sake of our patients, it was difficult. So where other facilities were able to provide a remote option, we just didn’t have that luxury. It didn’t work out as well for us. We also tried the phone for a while. I think it’s actually worse, you know, where your call would be dropped more than three times in a short conversation. So we had some difficulties with that. But we were able to do some amazing things. So our team is amazing. They are amazing people. But they are amazing suppliers. And they did a fantastic job. Everyone was really flexible. I know it was hard for everyone. And on top of the added worry of “Am I going to get sick?” Will I get COVID while at work, caring for people with COVID? It is a national problem. So it added worry, it added stress. It was not an easy year, two easy years for everyone. But I think we did an amazing job. I think the collaboration with the city made us all stronger, I think it went very well. And we worked very closely together. And when I say the city, it’s of course the EOC, but it’s also the fire and the EMS, the fact that a lot of these big events collaborate with other entities, the APIA. So we’ve had a really good, I think, a very good group to address these questions of how do we get what we need? How to ensure the safety of the community? How do we get the testing supplies we need together with the state? And then how do we get the vaccines we need? So it was a really good experience for something that was really difficult.

MCKENNEY: We’re in a clinic that has seen a lot of turnover, especially from its CEOs over the years. I heard that at one point there were about seven clinic directors in five years. You seem to bring a lot of stability to the clinic, from the people I’ve spoken to, even since my time here. How do you think leaving at this point will affect things here at the clinic? And do you think you’ve left it in a good place to keep moving forward?

TIURA: I don’t think it was a surprise to anyone that we were in a tough spot at the end of 2019. When I got there, financially we were in a really tough spot. And so, the last two years from this point of view have not been easy. We made a lot of decisions. We have worked a lot. We have done a lot on the revenue side and the expenditure side. We are in a strong position at the moment. I feel really good about what we have been able to accomplish in my time over the past two years. The clinic is definitely in a good position in many ways. We will always have our challenges like everywhere else, right? Turnover is tough. You think of it a bit like a storm that you have to face. You know, a person comes out, a new person comes in. There is a lot of emotion that goes with it. Many difficulties that accompany these transitions. So I’m trying to make this as smooth as possible. We have a acting gentleman who covered before I got here and who has graciously agreed to return. So for us, this adds another element of stability, where we can transmit specific projects. And we also have some members of our team who are going to step up their efforts to help with this transition to make sure that everything goes smoothly.

MCKENNEY: Do you feel like you’ve accomplished what you hoped to accomplish while you were here? What are you most proud of? Are there things that you wish you could have accomplished or achieved in your two and a half years?

TIURA: I feel really good where we are. I really feel good about what has been accomplished. I won’t say for myself, but for the team as a whole. What am I most proud of? I am the most proud of our people. I am very proud of our staff. I think they inspire greatness. It has been wonderful. I am very proud of our city, of our municipal leadership. I am really proud of the city council. I think they did some tough things against some critics for it. They did a fantastic job making decisions which I think helped keep people safe. I am really proud of the community for doing tough things. Nobody likes it. No one likes restrictions of any kind. Neither do I. So it was two difficult years. But the people really, they really did a great job. I am also very proud of the industry. We’ve spent a lot of time together over the past two years working on outbreaks and plans. School is another example, just working on these plans to figure out how to mitigate that. And we really did some amazing things. And we have other comparisons statewide to know that the way we did it, it worked out really well. And it wasn’t based on one person’s efforts, it was based on everyone’s efforts and all that diligence. So I met with companies last week, and we kind of did this little review of a year or two. And it’s been just a huge amount of work, a labor of love for everyone. But the result has been so good. So I’m really proud of it. I am proud that today we have no cases. And this does not happen by chance. Nowhere else does this happen by accident. These are intentional actions on the part of all of us. So I’m very proud of where we are at.

MCKENNEY: I moved here shortly before you did, and this island really captured my heart. I love living here, reporting here and being part of this community. How did it go for you ? What did you do during your time that was not here at the clinic? I know, it has taken a long time over the past couple of years. But how has it been for you to live on this island for over two years?

TIURA: We loved it here. Deciding to do something different, to leave the island was a very difficult decision for us, for our whole family. My husband, myself, my kids, we love it here. It’s nice. My husband and I were actually drinking coffee the other night talking about Unalaska and its beauty. And every day, and I’m not exaggerating, every day I say to myself: “It’s another beautiful day in Unalaska. No matter if it’s a storm, no matter if it’s clear, it’s just breathtaking, it’s beautiful. And we’ve been able to be a part of so much here, there is always things for the community to do, even when it’s COVID and a little tight and people aren’t coming together like they used to. Every sort of virtual race, we were there. If it was in person, we were there too. The children’s bazaars and sports and the pottery hall, of course, we are delighted to be a part of all this community has to offer. The people are warm, friendly, open and kind. And that’s just a good thing for us. I remember moving here, and you know, someone brought pizza to our door that first week, and you know, you’re a new person, you don’t know anyone and having someone coming at your door to say, “Welcome, we’re glad you’re here.” It’s just very sweet. So it’s been that way for the past two years. Again, tough times too, right? presence of COVID throughout the community and all of these measures put the brakes on it. And it held us all back a bit. But it’s a lovely place. And we will always fondly remember it.

MCKENNEY: So what’s the next step for you? What’s the next step for your family? Where are you going?

TIURA: So we’re heading to Valdez, Alaska. Again, still in rural Alaska, but on the highway system. I have an administrator position at the Providence Valdez medical center. And so I’ll start this later in December. We are therefore delighted with this opportunity as well.

MCKENNEY: Well, I don’t know if I have any more questions. Is there anything else I should have asked you or that you would like to share?

TIURA: I’m just very grateful. I am grateful to have been here for the past two years. You think of all the places you could be in the United States over the past two difficult years and we’ve had a lot of traumatic things in those two years. It has not been an easy time. But the community’s commitment to each other made me humble. And I don’t think I would have seen that in the last couple of years anywhere else at this level. I think being so rural, being all we’ve got, I think it really brought a lot of people together. And so I feel very lucky to have been a part of it.

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