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Premera Blue Cross Commits More Than $5.7 Million to Rural Healthcare Access in Alaska

Oct 30, 2019 | Monitor

Premera Blue Cross holds a news conference announcing a $5.7 million investment in Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, and University of Alaska Anchorage to expand access and improve quality of care in rural Alaska communities. From left: Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Chairman and UA Regent Andy Teuber, Rasmuson Foundation Vice President of Programs Alexandra McKay, UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen, and Premera Blue Cross CEO and President Jeff Roe.

James Evans/University of Alaska Anchorage

ANCHORAGE—Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, a leading health plan in the state, announced a $5.7 million investment to support access to rural healthcare in Alaska.

These investments will be made over the next three years to University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), as well as to create a new rural grantmaking program, administered in partnership with Rasmuson Foundation and housed at The Alaska Community Foundation.

“We’re proud to support the work that Alaska organizations, the university, and ANTHC are doing to serve the healthcare needs of Alaska’s rural communities,” said Jeff Roe, president and CEO of Premera Blue Cross. “Many of Alaska’s communities are hundreds of miles from a regional medical center, and in most rural communities there is not an adequate number of physicians, primary and mental healthcare providers, and sufficient facilities. It is critical to invest in effective, long-term solutions to close the growing gap between urban and rural healthcare access.”

UAA nursing student Robyn Chiklak of Dillingham talks with reporters during a Premera Blue Cross news conference.

James Evans/University of Alaska Anchorage

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According to a 2017 study from the National Rural Health Association, people living in rural areas suffer worse health outcomes than their urban counterparts. They are sicker, poorer, and older and are more likely to experience higher rates of premature death, disability, and chronic disease. In Alaska, more than 200,000 people, or about 32 percent of the state’s population, live in rural communities. With about 200 villages off the road system and only reachable by boat, aircraft, snowmachine, or four-wheeler, the state faces unique challenges to providing timely and quality care for all its residents.

Premera will establish the Rural Health Care Fund with $3 million, to be managed initially by Rasmuson Foundation and held by The Alaska Community Foundation. The fund will be used to award a wide variety of grants addressing equity, availability, and access to quality healthcare in rural areas. Grants will range from $25,000 to $100,000 for medical equipment and other small capital projects in outpatient clinics, community health centers, and hospitals.

“We are glad to partner with Premera on this new grantmaking venture, specifically to serve the needs of rural Alaska, the small village clinics, and critical access hospitals,” said Diane Kaplan, Rasmuson Foundation president and CEO. “Just last week, air service was cut off to the community of Unalaska due to a crash. It’s not uncommon for rural communities to be cut off from higher level medical service than available at home because of weather or other circumstances. The Premera partnership will enable local clinics to acquire the critical equipment they need as first responders. Lives will be saved.”

The UAA College of Health will receive a $1.77 million grant to expand the university’s associate and bachelor’s nursing degree programs at four of its campuses, three of which are in rural Alaska. The grant seeks to enhance the college’s Recruitment & Retention of Alaska Natives into Nursing (RRANN) program across rural Alaska.

“Alaska has the highest healthcare costs of any state in the nation, and these costs are even higher in Alaska’s rural communities,” said UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen. “We are committed to growing Alaska’s healthcare workforce. By increasing the number of nursing students from rural Alaska communities, the university helps meet a demand for medical professionals who understand the unique healthcare needs of rural Alaska and have a desire to return home to their communities to practice.”

ANTHC will receive $700,000 as a capital grant to support the build of its Anchorage-based Education & Development Center (EDC), helping create a state-of-the-art integrated healthcare education institution.

“Completing the training space within the EDC will provide a home where all three Tribal Community Health Provider Programs can enjoy the benefits of learning together in a state-of-the-art facility,” said Andy Teuber, chairman and president of ANTHC. “This generous gift from Premera further increases the Consortium’s capacity to encourage our people to gain the skills and credentials required to support our communities in other critical ways—becoming behavioral, community, and dental health aides. Each program offers Alaska Native centered learning, dedicated to expanding culturally appropriate healthcare at the village level.”

Premera is also providing $300,000 in grants to support Community Health Aide/Practitioner (CHA/P) training programs across Alaska. Grants of up to $100,000 each will support small capital improvements, equipment purchases, or other needs that are critical to implementation and expansion of CHA/P training programs. These grants will go to Norton Sound Health Corporation in Nome, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel, and Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks.

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