Premera pledges $5.7 million to rural healthcare

Published: Oct. 29, 2019 at 6:55 PM AKDT
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$5.7 million of new money has been set aside for development of rural health care facilities, courtesy of Premera Blue Cross. Today in Anchorage, healthcare leaders from University Alaska Anchorage, Rasmuson Foundation, and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium met for the announcement of how that money is getting split up.

President and CEO of Premera, Jeff Roe, highlighted the need for more funding and access to rural health care in the announcement today. Referring to when Premera pledge $100 million to the cause in 2018.

“Rural residents in general are more likely to suffer from chronic disease, more likely to be disabled, and more likely to die younger, “the challenges face in rural communities and rural healthcare systems are unique, and in Alaska, even more acute.”

Of the $5.7 million, $3 million will be going into a Rural Health Care Fund. The fund is established by Premera, managed by the Rasmuson Foundation, and the money will be held onto by the Alaska Community Foundation.

In this fund, the money will be used as grants to award to rural medical facilities. According to a press release from Premera, those grants will be for any amount between $25,000 and $100,000 to be spent on things like medical equipment and smaller projects.

$1.77 million is going to University Alaska Anchorage College of Health. Here, the money will be used to expand the nursing degree programs at four campuses. Leaders in the college say they hope to increase the overall size of the rural healthcare workforce.

$300,000 will be coming straight from Premera in the form of grants to help with Community health Aide and practitioner training programs. Grants will be capped at $100,000 for improvements and will be going to Norton Sound Health Corporation in Nome, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel, and Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks.

The last $700,000 is going to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, where the announcement was held Tuesday. Roe said this money has been dedicated to helping build an Educational and Developmental Center in Anchorage.

According to ANTHC’s website, fundraising has been going on to reach the $24.5 million dollar project for some time. Without a place to teach health care professionals, the Consortium has been making due in various different spaces to teach people.

“We are so excited about the gift that Premera has given us,” said Dr. Tina Woods Senior Director of Community Health Services with ANTHC, “workforce development is very challenging in Alaska. Especially to recruit and retain people in small remote areas.”

Dr. Woods said without a place to teach local Alaskans how provide healthcare, it’s more difficult to staff the clinics in rural Alaska with people to take care of the smaller communities.

She said the Consortium wants to recruit far more people from within the villages, so that they have a higher chance of learning how to take care of people and stay where they are from.

Angelica Afcan and Trisha Patton are both Dental Health Aide Therapist Instructors for ANTHC who live and work in Bethel. They said they are also the only two full time employees at the clinic they work at.

“We have instructors who rotate to our clinic who aren’t necessarily from here,” Patton said, “so they rotate on a two week basis or three week basis to come teach our students for specific topics.”

Patton confirmed that the constant in and out of new faces teaching students in her clinic has negative effects on the quality of their learning.

Afcan and Patton agree that they could certainly use more help in their clinic, and that it’s better for them to get people who are either from Bethel, or a similar rural community.

Once the Educational Development Center is up and running, they said they foresee a more manageable workload for them which they hopes translates into healthier communities.

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