In 2023, we marked 50 years of tribal health care operation and management for the people of Bristol Bay. However, the history of organized health care in Bristol Bay is much longer. Prior to the coming of the Russians in 1818, the primary health care provider was the “angalkuk” or shaman. Doctors first came into Bristol Bay when the canneries opened in 1885. In 1904, Dr. Joseph Herman Romig opened a hospital in Carmel. It remained open in 1913 when Dr. Linus Hiram French relocated the hospital to Kanakanak and took over one of two school buildings. In 2013, Kanakanak Hospital marked 100 years of providing health care to the people of Bristol Bay. Over the past 100 years, the people of Bristol Bay have not only endured and survived life in a harsh climate and rugged terrain, they also suffered greatly from epidemics such as the Influenza Epidemic which reached Bristol Bay in 1919 and caused the death of thousands of people in western Alaska. The tuberculosis epidemic of the 1940s and early 1950s also took a heavy toll on the people in the region. Today, rather than TB and influenza epidemics, we struggle with diseases of a modern society that include chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. The life expectancy of our people has increased from 47 years of age in 1952, to 69.4 in 1998, still below that of U.S. residents and other Alaskans. We are strengthening our programs and services to address chronic illnesses as well as continuing to provide acute care services that dominated health care need much of the past 100 years for the people of Bristol Bay.

Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation (BBAHC) was incorporated in 1973 to carry out nonprofit activities in the areas of health, education, and social services for people residing in the Bristol Bay region. The President/Chief Executive Officer, reports directly to the Board of Directors. The role of the President/CEO is to ensure the corporation is operationally and financially viable and fulfills the corporate mission. The President/CEO leads a senior management team including the Executive Vice President/Chief Operations Officer, Vice President/Chief Financial Officer, Chief Human Resources Officer, Chief Medical Officer, Chief Compliance Officer, and Public Relations/Community Engagement Director. BBAHC is currently a designated Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) recipient, operating Federally Qualified Community Health Centers (FQCHCs) throughout the region. 

BBAHC has a long-standing relationship with the Federal government managing contracts, grants and cooperative agreements since formation in 1973. The Bristol Bay service region covers approximately 35,000 square miles and 40 million acres – an area the size of the state of Oklahoma. The largest village in the region is Dillingham, which is the regional hub for both commerce and healthcare and is located approximately 350 air miles from Anchorage. 

To ensure access to high quality care BBAHC has designed an efficient region-wide healthcare service delivery network to meet the needs of all individuals in the service area and target population. This network includes the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation Campus which includes the Kanakanak Hospital, Behavioral Health Counseling Center, H. Sally Smith Building which houses the regional dental facility, Jake’s Place (a residential treatment facility) along with a few other facilities to provide needed medical/dental care for the region’s residents. 

Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation manages Kanakanak Hospital, a critical access facility, which is Joint Commission accredited, receives Health and Human Services funding, and is covered through the Federal Tort Claim Act with respect to certain health or health-related claims, including liability for medical malpractice claims, for its officers, board members, employees, and certain health profession contractors and health profession volunteers. Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation is recognized by the US Government and State of Alaska as a tribal organization under PL 93-638.