Haines doctors speak out against local mine, claim it will lead to violence

Haines, Alaska


Class warfare by college-educated elites against working class men is a familiar wound in Haines, Alaska, but one that was laid bare last month in a letter signed by all four practicing physicians in the town.

The letter, which appeared in the local weekly newspaper, Chilkat Valley News in September, singled out mining as an industry and mining workers as particular problems the community doesn’t want to have.

Trust them, they’re doctors. If mining comes to Haines, they wrote, residents can expect depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and violence will not be far behind, and these are conditions beyond what the four doctors wrote they could handle. Plus, they’re trying to raise their children in Haines, and miners don’t fit their idea of a good neighbor, because they work two weeks on, two off, and have too much money to spend and get in trouble.

Several Haines residents have taken offense at the speculation that having a good-paying job — one that requires drug testing — would lead to social ills. But in a small town like Haines, speaking up against the doctors would come at a price.

The four doctors are associated with the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium clinic and they are the only doctors currently practicing on a regular basis in the community that is a half-hour plane ride from Juneau.

Doctors Tom Wendel, Lylith Widmer, Adam McMahan, and Greg Higgins wrote:

“As practicing physicians who live, raise families and care for patients in this community, we are compelled to stand against a proposed mine near the headwaters of the Chilkat River.”

The physicians cited a research report by Dr. Thomas Powers, “The Social Costs of Mining on Rural Communities,” which they said backs up their own experiences as country doctors.

The report documents “the likelihood of increases in substance use disorders, domestic and non-domestic violence, and depression/anxiety.  We believe these conditions would enact a toll in physical, emotional and social suffering that would far outweigh any potential economic benefit to this community,” the SEARHC doctors wrote.

The four doctors are objecting to a proposed copper-zinc-silver-gold mine in the Porcupine Mining District, which is in the advanced exploration stage. The mining district is on state land within the Haines Borough.

 “A project of this scale must be evaluated by considering its total impacts.  The influx of hundreds of transient, mostly single, young men with two weeks off every month and lots of money to spend has a high potential of bringing social/medical illnesses into our community that we will struggle to treat,” the doctors wrote. “Health care in America is already straining to meet the needs of rural citizens. Mental health services are inadequate, primary care clinicians and nurses are few, and rurally-oriented ones are scarce.  Prevention is always better, surer and easier than the cure.”

Residents who objected to the characterization wondered why the doctors didn’t single out seasonal workers in tourism or commercial fishing. Why do the doctors single out the mining workforce as disreputable?

President James Sage of the Alaska Miners Association’s Haines Chapter took the high road in a response published Oct. 3. He reminded readers — and the doctors — of all the good things that miners bring to a community:

The doctors of SEARHC serve the Alaska Native community, but in a small town like Haines, others who qualify may occasionally have access to a doctor at SEARHC.

Miners in the community who have found seasonal work with the Constantine Metals “Palmer” project have expressed concern that they are being targeted for discrimination by SEARHC, due to their doctors’ expressed disapproval of the mining workforce. Will the mining company need to bring in its own doctor, so workers feel safe?

“If you’re working and have money, and especially if you’re a working-class young man, you’re seen as more of a problem by these doctors than people on welfare,” said one Haines resident, who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s discrimination against young working men, in particular.”

He pointed out that any statement that prejudges a class of workers also flies in the face of the spirit of the Patients Bill of Rights posted at the SEARHC website, which says the clinic will have “consideration of your cultural and spiritual beliefs.”

SEARHC received a few complaints from Haines residents after the physicians’ letter appeared in the newspaper. The marketing department of SEARHC sent a response to those who wrote to the Sitka-based health group, saying SEARHC was “aware of the situation,” and apologizing on “behalf of our co-workers,” while noting that the doctors spoke for themselves in their private capacity, not for SEARHC.


  1. Have the doctors ever wondered where the steel for their instruments or the copper for their equipment comes from? Hint…. it’s mined!!

  2. It may be that the doctors would be happier practicing in Cuba or Venezuala if they do not mind a different climate. This feels like a return to the middle ages. Folks were a lot more compliant back then. The docs have confused their white coats for priestly robes.

  3. Truth and Projecting Mass Hysteria appears to be the question for Haines. Claiming there is a fire especially when the physicians are not firemen, nor psychotherapists is a concern of “scope of practice.” Alaska is framed by its people and villages who avail challenging paths to accomplish amazing things. To hear of a village given the opportunity to enhance itself and its people only to be minimized by questionable servants of the people is disheartening. Move forward Haines, you deserve opportunity and freedom to make positive choices rather projected negative outcomes.

    Oh, I encourage you not to allow the physicians to your local theater in case they call out fire… Projected Mass Hysteria is an ugly thing which deludes Truth.

  4. Yes there is a Hammer Museum in Haines.
    No Scapel Museum in Haines.
    A working man’s town for over a century.
    Shake a miner’s hand then shake a Surgeon’s.
    I’ll go with the working man’s hand.

    • Does the State of Alaska get a Royalty from the Proposed Mining Operation?
      All Resource development should be open to business in Alaska.
      With the sorry state of the Alaska economy, we do not have the luxury of NIMBY, Elitist, Cry Babying, End of the Road Doc s.

  5. Odd that the environmental impact of that kind of mine on Alaskan waters never came up. So they must be okay with tainted water.

  6. Nothing new here, 30 years ago the same concerns were expresed in Juneau during debates over re-opening the old Alaska- Juneau mine. Lefties were citing negitive ” socio- economic impacts” of allowing miners an opportunity to work, live and play in their fair City.
    By the way Haines, don’t you have the option of going to Whitehorse for your medical care? The Yukon seems mining freindly!

  7. There is no Native “preference” at the Haines SEARHC clinic as inferred by the comment “ others who qualify”. Anyone who walks in will be treated, no matter where they work.
    I for one am glad our doctors are voicing a very legitimate concern for our valley.

  8. Four doctors in Haines are mining fake news? I will bet my PFD they work for Nancy, Chuck, or AOC. Get real, Haines. Enjoy your new ferry and terminal. But don’t allow the vessel wake to disturb salmon eggs on the Chilkat River. How’s the weed business going? Do the doctors smoke it?

  9. Thank you for this article Suzanne,

    I had one miner express to me that he was concerned about whether or not his children would get proper medical treatment at the clinic now that he knows the position of the doctors is prejudiced against miners. He can pretty easily get treatment in Juneau since he goes through there to and from work regularly, but now he has to think about how his children and his wife will get medical treatment.

  10. Wonder if these so-called medical professionals ever came across anything about the positive health impact of holding a steady job.

    Happily, these guys just self selected out of the list of available docs for working people in Haines. Cheers –

  11. So this is what the med schools crank out these days …. self-appointed important people to pronounce their imperial judgements on certain working class people. Wow … discriminate much?!!

  12. No clue what these Dr’s are trying to do. Fairbanks Fort Knox gold mine has been a very positive impact on our area. They take great care of their people, they take care of the ground, and do excellent reclamation when they are finished with an area. The old True North mine speaks for itself. It looks beautiful. Mine equals work for the town and more of a positive attitude I think so not sure what agenda they are trying to pull. Never in my life had I heard that an industry would cause depression, violence and the lot. That’s a first. Work equates a good atmosphere. It’s crazy to think otherwise. I think these physicians are paid libtard idiots who are pulling this. How embarrassing.

  13. Ugh, the hubris of physicians! It is so smarmy and ridiculous for a few small-minded, over-educated, high and mighty doctors in a tiny town to reveal their prejudice so baldly as these four did here. Where can you go on Earth where you won’t run into drug problems or socially unacceptable behaviors? Rise above those things, confront them with firmness and compassion. But don’t exclude an entire class of “overpaid” blue collar workers because of your obvious slanted self-perception! I know plenty of doctors and nurses who drink, smoke, and drug themselves up to oblivion. Also, the suicide rate among physicians is a nation-wide crisis. Don’t act like your MD poop don’t stink!

  14. I have never read an essay as elitist as theses Doctors have drafted. They need to be boycotted by the public. Their practice sucks up to the very swamp most of us only tolerate in small doses. Move back to somewhere you are a better fit.

  15. I think the doctors charge too much and need to take a pay cut. They should not shop in the stores because they might catch something and transmit it to the people of Haines.

  16. Perhaps as a first step residents should file a complaint and voice their concerns with the Alaska State Medical Board and the American Medical Association.

  17. Where are the graduating class going to work? What alternative is there? Do you want your children to have to leave Haines to find work? Is someone going to open a saw mill? What’s the future for children growing up in Haines without industry? Values keep them grounded, insecurities about others is sticking your head in the sand.

  18. Lead to substance abuse… Please remind me which sector of the economy is responsible for the over prescription of opioids.

  19. Rather funny to hear myself branded as an ”elitist doctor”. I have never been opposed to mining done correctly and if the plans for this mine can convince me that it can be done in this sensitive area where fishing and living off the land would not be threatened, then so be it. Greg Higgins MD

    • Wait, Dr. Higgins, didn’t your original letter to the editor say that you were concerned about anxiety, depression, domestic violence, transient single young me with lots of cash in their pockets and two weeks off to create mayhem? Now you’re telling us it’s about living off the land, fishing?

      Thank you for clarifying. We, the jury, consider the goalposts duly moved.

  20. You, the jury, do not know me, what I believe or what I represent. Enjoy your ”game of words” Greg Higgins.

  21. Doc Higgins I would like to know what statement is true — your letter to Haines, or the statement you made here? Because it is totally different. I’m waiting.

  22. You are correct, doc. The jury does not know you. But, you’re doing fine job painting your picture for them. Keep digging.

  23. I wonder if these ‘doctors’ ever considered the “substance use disorders, domestic and non violence, anxiety/depression” of residents in many of Alaska’s rural communities where jobs are minimal to non-existent? I dare to venture whatever issues a mine brings to Haines will be a paltry whiff of the problems experienced in other less prosperous points in the State.

  24. Yes, this is a polarized topic and one that is close to home.

    With that said, it is interesting that people don’t seem to be the tiniest bit curious about the potential issues that *may* have lasting effects on the community (and have been well documented in numerous rural communities across the North and in mining communities worldwide). But no matter, they can still be disregarded as “educated elite” who have studied for years in their field and genuinely care about Haines from a personal and professional standpoint.

    Since when are the opinions of others, especially on the basis of what they observe as community members who are trained as health professionals, so easily disregarded and vilified? It seems level headed to say that a “project of this scale must be evaluated by its total impacts”. How can that be objected?

    It takes guts to speak up! This could be a valuable opportunity for discussion.

  25. JM – your assertion that people are not the “tiniest bit curious” about the potential issues that *may* have lasting effects…I’m sure that my fellow readers are plenty curious and are entitled to their opinions. It takes guts to speak up, as you say. It’s going to take even more guts for a mining family to go to one of these doctors — the only doctors in town — who have now said that miners (young men with jobs and too much money) are a bad influence on a community. The arrogance of these doctors towards working class people is breathtaking. They revealed their elitism and they’re getting appropriate feedback. That is all.

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