Murkowski: 51 Medevacs and Counting from King Cove

Community Continues to Lack Dependable Access to Emergency Health Care Services

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, yesterday spoke about an amendment she introduced to S. 2848, the Water Resources Development Act, that would facilitate a life-saving road for the isolated community of King Cove, Alaska. The amendment in identical to legislation she introduced in July and is cosponsored by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).                                                                                  

“What the people of King Cove are asking for is reliable access to emergency medical transportation. They simply want to be able to reach proper care, in time, in the event of an injury or illness,” Murkowski said. “When a medical emergency occurs that is beyond the capacity of the small local clinic, you have no choice but to try to make it to Anchorage. If you are a trauma victim, if you are a woman in early stages of labor, or if you have a serious illness, the King Cove clinic simply cannot provide the care that you need.”                                      

In her statement, Murkowski outlined for her colleagues, not for the first time, the immense difficulties that residents of King Cove face in the event of medical emergencies. She also reiterated the best and only solution: a short, gravel, one-lane road reserved exclusively for non-commercial use that would connect King Cove with the nearby community of Cold Bay, which features a 10,000-foot long, all-weather runway.

“We need to link these two communities to finally and fully protect the health and safety of these Alaskans,” Murkowski said. “It’s been nearly a thousand days since Sally Jewell washed her hands of this issue. She promised to help local residents gain reliable transportation to Cold Bay, but instead of working toward a real solution, she has decided to run out the clock. We have seen no engagement with local residents, no budget requests, and no administrative action – just one topical study of alternatives that have been examined before, and rejected before, as unworkable.”

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell rejected a previously agreed-upon path forward for a road in December 2013. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Murkowski held an oversight hearing in April 2016 to allow King Cove residents to describe the suffering this decision has caused their community, including 51 medevacs. As chairman of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, she has successfully advanced legislation to facilitate a life-saving road to the Senate floor in each of the past two years.

Murkowski spoke about one of the most recent medevacs, which occurred in August 2016.

“This past month was a particularly bad one for King Cove. No fewer than four medevacs have been carried out,” Murkowski said. “One was an elderly woman in her 70s, who arrived at the medical clinic with a hip fracture. She needed to be medevacked to Anchorage, but she had to wait more than 40 hours for heavy fog to lift.”  

Murkowski closed by reminding her colleagues of the importance of doing right by the residents of King Cove.

“As remote as they are, and as far away as they are, and as small as their community may be, I would remind the Senate: this is still an American community. It is still our job to help them.  And they are not asking for much,” Murkowski said. “The people of King Cove are suffering, lives are at stake, and it is entirely within our power to protect them.”

King Cove is located between two volcanic mountains near the end of the Alaska Peninsula, about 625 miles southwest of Anchorage. Murkowski’s King Cove legislation would authorize an equal value land exchange between the State of Alaska and the federal government for a 206-acre land road corridor. Not factoring in the accompanying land exchange, the corridor would account for approximately 0.07 percent of the 315,000-acre Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and is needed to facilitate an 11-mile, gravel, one-lane, non-commercial road segment that will connect existing roads running up to and within the refuge. 

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