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Health

A man died in the Bethel sobering center. His family is suing the federal government

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Indian Health Service
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The family of a man who died in the Bethel sobering center, operated by the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, is suing the federal government.

In 2019, a man died in the Bethel sobering center. Now, the family of that man is suing the federal government for negligence. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC), which operates the center, provides health services on behalf of the federal government.

According to a complaint filed by his family, 50-year-old Wassillie Alfred had been drinking alcohol on April 20, 2019, and became highly intoxicated. Around 8:30 p.m., he entered the Bethel Sobering Center, operated by YKHC. The complaint said that he took a breathalyzer test, which showed he had a blood alcohol content of 0.207, over two-and-a-half times the legal limit to drive.

The complaint states that Alfred fell asleep in the sobering center’s sleeping area. It alleges that the center’s staff did not check on Alfred until the next morning.

At around 8:15 a.m. on April 21, 2019, a sobering center staff member found Alfred dead, laying in a pool of blood, the complaint said. His blood alcohol content was twice what was measured when he entered the sobering center. He died of alcohol poisoning.

Alfred’s family is suing the federal government for its employees’ alleged negligence in treating him at the sobering center. The complaint states that the sobering center staff should have monitored Alfred throughout the night. The family is seeking more than $100,000, the exact amount to be determined at trial.

YKHC operates the Bethel sobering center, but is not the defendant in this lawsuit. YKHC provides health services on behalf of the Indian Health Service, a branch of the federal government. A spokesperson for YKHC declined to comment on this lawsuit.

Updated: January 14, 2022 at 3:21 PM AKST
A previous version of this story showed an image of a Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation sign. It has been replaced with a Department of Health and Human Services Indian Health Service sign.
Corrected: January 14, 2022 at 2:57 PM AKST
A previous version of this story stated: "Alfred’s family is suing the federal government for its employees’ negligence in treating him at the sobering center." It should have read "Alfred’s family is suing the federal government for its employees’ alleged negligence in treating him at the sobering center."