Ernie Turner Center to Find New Life in Eklutna

The new treatment facility will provide 16 beds for addiction patients

The location of the future Eklutna-based Ernie Turner Center, expected to open in early summer 2018. Photo courtesy of Alaska Dispatch News.

The location of the future Eklutna-based Ernie Turner Center, expected to open in early summer 2018. Photo courtesy of Alaska Dispatch News.

CITC is one crucial step closer to expanding its recovery services outside of Anchorage as it enters the final phase of land purchase for the new Ernie Turner Center, to be located on the road to Eklutna Lake.

This new treatment facility will offer residential addiction treatment to individuals who have gone through detox and have been screened by the program’s application process. Floor plans of the center have been finalized and include 16 beds for short- and long-term addiction patients, as well as a fitness room, arts and crafts room, and carving studio.

The location, a secluded 6-acre parcel of land owned by Eklutna Inc., provides a healing, natural environment that’s a contrast to the busy Anchorage location of the current Ernie Turner Center, shared CITC Director of Recovery Services Rebecca Ling.

“We’re excited about the location, which is a very serene, natural environment where participants will really be able to focus on healing,” Rebecca explained. “The current location has very conveniently to things like hospitals, but the more urban environment can be a little chaotic for those in recovery.”

The center’s current addiction treatment program is located on busy Elmore Road and has been administered by CITC for two decades; the building was co-managed by CITC and Southcentral Foundation. This January, Southcentral Foundation took over management of the detox program after buying the building from CITC.

Though CITC relinquished management of the detox program, it retained the “Ernie Turner Center” name, as well as the intention to provide treatment to those recovering from alcohol and substance addiction. Ernie Turner was a champion for recovery in his own right. After overcoming an alcohol addiction, he dedicated the rest of his life to setting up treatment centers in Seattle and Anchorage that were geared specifically toward Alaskan Native and Native American people, until his death in 2010.

The new Eklutna-based Ernie Turner Center is made possible through a partnership between CITC, the Native Village of Eklutna, Eklutna Inc., and Cook Inlet Housing Authority.

During a May 9 meeting, the Anchorage Assembly was “both supportive and impressed with the information CITC shared about the Ernie Turner Center service model,” said CITC President and CEO Gloria O’Neill.

That service model, a therapeutic “Village of Care” framework, is based on traditional Alaska Native values and concepts: Clients are referred to as “family members” and have a “family chief”; sobriety is understood to involve the whole person, and spiritual needs are addressed as part of recovery.

This model, as it was implemented at the original Ernie Turner Center, reported strong results: After six months, 86 percent of residential graduates reported a reduction in harmful behaviors. Nearly all graduates obtain jobs after finishing the program.

The new Ernie Turner Center also fills a critical need for additional detox services in the Anchorage area. At this time, there are only two detox centers in Alaska — one of which is the former Ernie Turner Center, now run by Southcentral Foundation — and as the number of heroin-related deaths has increased tenfold since 2010, Alaska is in dire need of treatment facilities.

“We’re working to create the resources needed to respond to the need in our community and beyond,” Gloria said. “The new Ernie Turner Center not only demonstrates our commitment to give individuals the tools they need to change their lives, but represents what can be accomplished when we partner together to bring resources to our people.”

The new facility is slated to open in early summer of 2018. A blessing ceremony of the building site will be held later this summer.