Helgesen replaces former SEARHC President/CEO Ken Brewer, who died unexpectedly in June. Helgesen will lead a non-profit tribal health consortium of 18 Native communities that provides medical, dental, behavioral health, substance abuse treatment and wellness services to Tlingít, Haida, Tsimshian and other Native people in Southeast Alaska. Established in 1975 under the provisions of the Indian Self-Determination Act, SEARHC is one of the oldest and largest Native-run health organizations in the country, and it is the largest private employer in Southeast Alaska with nearly 1,000 employees.
"Roald was a highly respected employee and manager when he worked at SEARHC, and the Board feels he is the ideal person to lead the consortium into the future."
Helgesen grew up in Sitka and is an enrolled tribal member with Sitka Tribe of Alaska and the Central Council of Tlingít and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Alaska Anchorage with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and a minor in public administration. Helgesen earned a Master of Science degree in Health Care Administration from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, earning the deparment award for excellence in graduate education. He is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives and of the Healthcare Financial Management Association.
After earning his undergraduate degree, Helgesen returned to Sitka. He was hired by SEARHC Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital in 1993, starting in telecommunications with a promotion to telecommunications supervisor in 1995.
In 1997, Helgesen became a health systems analyst/executive assistant and in 2000 he was promoted to director of administrative services. Helgesen was promoted to VP of Administration in 2003 and moved to SEARHC's Juneau headquarters.
He left Alaska in 2004 to take the health care manager position at the Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women in Medical Lake, Wash., and in 2006 he was hired as CEO of the Dirne Community Health Center.
"I am excited to be selected by the SEARHC Board of Directors as the President/CEO. My family is happy to be returning home to Southeast Alaska," Helgesen said.
"It is an honor to be able to work toward SEARHC's mission with the values of our Native people. I look forward to working with our Board, tribes, staff and multiple partners to improve the delivery of health services in the region."
In addition to his work in the health care profession, Helgesen served as a volunteer firefighter and EMT with the Sitka Fire Department from 1997-2003, working on the high angle-technical rope rescue team from 1997-98 and serving as captain from 1999-2000. He also has been a medical escort with the SEARHC Air Medical Service. When he was younger, he served as a sergeant-at-arms and page for the Alaska State Legislature. In 2003, Helgesen was honored as one of Alaska's "Top Forty Under 40" by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and the Alaska Journal of Commerce.
Helgesen will face many challenges as he takes his new position with SEARHC. He will have to deal with health care and personnel costs that have been rising at astronomical rates, limited and unreliable ferry service, the implementation of a new billing system and electronic health records, and changing demographics in Southeast may require shifting more services to Juneau.
"Roald returns to SEARHC at a pivotal time," said Mark Gorman, the SEARHC Vice President of Community Health Services who has served as Interim President/CEO since Brewer's death.
"We are extremely fortunate. He has the energy, intellect and commitment to lead us during our time of change and challenge."