Funder: Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit

May 2013 |

Steve TierneyFrom serving in the U.S. Coast Guard to studying acupuncture in China, Dr. Steve Tierney’s career has been anything but traditional. As both a practicing physician and leader in data analytics and quality improvement at Alaska’s Southcentral Foundation (SCF), he has worked with tribal leadership and the Alaska Native community to implement new approaches to care delivery. SCF has boldly challenged health care norms with its Alaska Native-led Nuka System of Care and Dr. Tierney has played an important supporting role in this trajectory.

Dr. Tierney calls his introduction to SCF a “happy accident.” After serving in the Coast Guard and completing his medical training at the Uniformed Services University, he was required to pay back the cost of his tuition by practicing in an underserved area. By chance, he chose to go to Anchorage and work at SCF, an Indian Health Service site, not knowing that it was in the midst of a dramatic transformation.

When he first arrived at SCF in 1995, Dr. Tierney was one of four doctors in its primary care department. “We saw anyone they sent our way,” he recalls. Shortly after his arrival, the foundation began to examine its workflows and access issues, and decided to reshape its primary care services. In 1999, Dr. Tierney became the organization’s first empanelled primary care physician, as well as the first physician who was available to patients (called “customer-owners” at SCF) via same day access.


Profiles in Innovation are a product of the Center for Health Care Strategies’ Complex Care Innovation Lab, made possible by Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit, which is bringing together leading innovators working to improve care for vulnerable populations with complex medical and social needs. These profiles highlight Innovation Lab participants and examine their pioneering work.