Providence Alaska: Care for the Poor and Vulnerable
Bruce Lamoureux, Senior VP/CEO of Providence Alaska Region
© Judy Patrick Photography
Providence Health & Services Alaska set foot in Alaska in 1902 during the Gold Rush in Nome when the Sisters of Providence first brought healthcare to the Last Frontier. Since then Providence has grown, providing healthcare in six Alaska communities: Anchorage, Eagle River, Kodiak Island, Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Seward, and Valdez. In Alaska, Providence has 4,000 employees, led by Bruce Lamoureux, Senior VP/CEO of the Providence Alaska Region.
For the last nearly eleven years Lamoureux has been with Providence—all of those here in Alaska—after moving here from Los Angeles. He says moving to Alaska has been extremely positive. “I wish I would have come here as a young man. I just find my soul nourished being in Alaska; Alaskans are gracious and welcoming, so it’s been not only an easy transition, but a welcome transition.”
Lamoureux says that Providence has a diverse workforce and that Providence’s Alaska employees are predominantly women, approximately 73 percent. He continues, “We believe that diversity is an asset for the organization and for us to have a workforce that resembles communities we serve in allows us to better understand the needs of people that entrust their care to us.” When injured, a person’s needs are often not only physical but also cultural or psychosocial issues that may arise from different communities and upbringing.
Providence has intentionally developed diversity in its employee base. Lamoureux says diversity starts with the simplest thing, “and that is that we welcome people from all backgrounds.” He says their diversity development also happens through school programs, career awareness fairs, and education/observation programs where Providence makes opportunities for youths to shadow Providence employees.
“We find our best ambassadors are in fact our own employees,” he says. “If you are someone from a particular sector of Anchorage, chances are you are in conversations with people who share some qualities and attributes that you may have, and they are more likely to then learn about Providence, consider whether or not employment might be of interest and a fit, and then [are] more likely to apply,” he explains.
He says that in some areas Providence is intentional in their workforce diversity and development. “As an example, our senior executive council is composed of nine people, five of whom are women,” Lamoureux says. “We have programs to help develop people, develop their familiarity and comfort in leadership and other issues, and we have populated some of those programs intentionally to better mirror the general workforce.”
According to Lamoureux, one of the benefits of working at Providence, simply put, is Providence’s mission. “Our work, while in healthcare, ultimately is intended to serve the poor and vulnerable, and we find that people have great resonance with our mission statement,” he says. Providence administers an annual caregiver/employee survey. One of the questions on the survey is the individual’s resonance with affinity for Providence’s mission. “Fully 93 percent of [respondents] say they have a high connection to mission,” he says.
“That to us is an intangible benefit for someone working within Providence … when we find meaning in our work, when we feel fulfilled by what we do and serve in an environment that we at least attempt to infuse with respect and compassion, people are much more satisfied and engaged,” Lamoureux says.
Other Employee Care
Additionally, Providence provides more tangible opportunities for employees, such as a competitive benefits structure. Providence has policy called “Just Wage,” which is an effort to ensure that those who are in entry-level positions within the organization make at least a minimum wage above what’s legally required and receive full benefits. Lamoureux says, “By doing that they are better able to care for themselves and whatever their family situation may be.”
Providence also offers educational opportunities for their employees, including tuition reimbursement. “Often times we’ll find that someone who may have completed high school two or three years ago… has become aware of what might be possible,” he says. For example an aide providing patient care may observe what a therapist, pharmacist, or nurse is doing and feel inspired to pursue education that leads to that kind of work.
Alternatively, much like Lamoureux, who began his career as a respiratory therapist, an employee involved in direct employee care may pursue possibilities in management or other professional areas of development. “Depending on the individual’s temperament, skills, interests, aptitude, and other variables, they can find themselves, within Providence, in any number of areas,” he says.
“Providence is really like a small city,” Lamoureux continues. “It has food and nutrition services, facility maintenance operation, nursing, medical care, pharmacy, electricians—just all kinds of crafts, trades, professions, business environments—and so you can walk in here and it’s literally like a little city. And people who may walk in with little notion of what they may be capable of suddenly find that there’s something that interests them, and they can grow in the organization over years and decades.”
Providence states on its website, “As people of Providence, we reveal God’s love for all, especially the poor and vulnerable, through our compassionate service.” It pursues that mission through a variety of community partnerships and activities.
According to the Providence’s Alaska 2015 Community Benefit Report, in 2015 Providence’s total cost of care and services donated was more than $70 million, including more than $11 million in community health grants and donations, more than $8 million in education and research programs, approximately $4.5 million in subsidized services, and nearly $42 million in free and discounted care for patients in need.
One of Providence’s partners is UAA (University of Alaska Anchorage) through UAA’s nursing program. “Our support of that program includes things like clinical rotations for nurses and also an annual grant,” Lamoureux says. Every year for at least the last eight years Providence has provided UAA a $300,000 grant to support the nursing program. “That is in acknowledgement that UAA is the expert in the delivery of education.”
He says that all hospitals in Alaska receive the benefit of this partnership, as training nurses in-state encourages them to remain in Alaska for work. “Providence’s unique position in the state of Alaska as the largest and a visible healthcare provider and employer also comes with some responsibilities for us. Those include support of the nursing program,” Lamoureux says.
Providence also partners with the Municipality of Anchorage, United Way, RurAL Cap, and Catholic Social Services, along with other community organizations, to serve Alaska’s homeless. Providence donated more than $1 million dollars in 2016 and plans to donate a similar amount in 2017. Providence’s hope is that, through better coordination, “We can somehow put people back into shelter and baseline environments where they can succeed and become self-sustaining in a more holistic manner,” he says.
He continues that addressing homelessness directly ties to Providence’s mission of care for the poor and vulnerable. “If we can invest with others upstream, before an individual comes to us because they’re looking to escape the cold and other issues, then the costs of healthcare are lower and the demand for healthcare is lower,” Lamoureux says. “And, in some cases, people avert more serious health conditions because, in the case of homelessness and winter, they might not suffer frostbite and require in-patient hospitalization.”
Providence’s compassionate donations definitely have an impact on the Alaska community, but there’s no doubt the organization is a significant part of the economy in Anchorage and Alaska. Beyond supplying 4,000 Alaska jobs, Providence’s infrastructure is valued at approximately $750 million in Anchorage, and their facilities statewide are valued at about $1 billion.
For construction projects, their use of Alaska-based contractors is “nearly universal,” the company states. In Anchorage headquarters, a plaque in the lobby recognizes and celebrates the many contractors and sub-contractors that worked on the building to make it a success.
And Providence’s infrastructure and construction needs go beyond what most would imagine as “hospital” facilities. “Our portfolio of services goes well beyond acute and out-patient healthcare; it extends to an assisted living facility, a long-term care facility, and a transitional care facility. We are part owners in the LifeMed Flight Ambulance program. We co-own that with the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation,” Lamoureux says.
Providence Alaska CARES
One project “near and dear” to Providence’s heart is their Alaska CARES (Child Abuse Response & Evaluation Services) Program, which currently occupies a building that will need to be vacated in 2018 or 2019. “We anticipate a replacement building on a parcel of land we own,” Lamoureux says. Design for the new building, which has an estimated cost of $12 million to $14 million, began in February. Design and permitting will continue through this year, with construction anticipated for 2018.
Providence Alaska CARES takes care of children who are the victims of abuse—verbal, sexual, or physical. “It is the only child advocacy center of its type in the state of Alaska,” Lamoureux says, and represents a collaboration between the Municipality of Anchorage, the Anchorage Police Department, the State Troopers, the Department of Health & Social Services, and Southcentral Foundation. Representatives of these organizations are all housed in the same place, and so when a child victim is brought in and interviewed by a counselor, through the use of microphones and one-way mirrors, every agency has access to the child’s information without being in the room. “In so doing we don’t re-traumatize the victim repeatedly over the course of the work that needs to be done,” he says. In 2016, Providence treated nearly 950 children in the program. “There, again, [is our] mission statement of care of the poor and vulnerable. Certainly if children are nothing else, it is that they are vulnerable.”
Alaska CARES is the perfect micro-example of how Providence operates in the state: building the economy through construction and jobs, generous community involvement, and care for those who need it most.
Tasha Anderson is an Associate Editor for Alaska Business.
This article first appeared in the April 2017 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly.