UAA Receives $4 Million Federal Grant to Boost Alaska’s Shrinking Healthcare Workforce

The University of Alaska Anchorage was awarded a $4 million federal grant this week grant that administrators say could help address a long-standing shortage of healthcare workers in the state.

Alejandra Castillo, the U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for Economic Development, came to Alaska to announce the grant Thursday at the university’s Health Sciences Building.

“Here in Alaska, you were experiencing significant healthcare staffing shortages before the pandemic, which exacerbated the outflow of many healthcare workers from the state to the Lower 48,” Castillo said. “I am honored to be with you to bring you good news.”

Castillo said the investment was part of a regional funding pool allocated under the U.S. bailout and the university was chosen from more than 500 applicants. across the country to receive part of a $1 billion grant.

The money will be used to renovate SAU facilities and help support students pursuing careers in healthcare, said Kendra Sticka, associate dean of clinical healthcare sciences, who spoke at the event. the event was attended by several dozen people, including state officials and hospital representatives.

The university plans to focus the funding on improving facilities for certified practical nurses, surgical technicians and diagnostic medical stenographers in particular – “some of those healthcare professions that are in dire need of them, but don’t come always front and center,” Sticka said.

The expansion could mean almost twice as many graduates from these programs over the next few years, she said.

She said the money would also enable technical upgrades in classrooms that would improve virtual learning for students across the state.

In part due to geographic remoteness and limited educational programs, Alaska has long struggled to retain and recruit skilled healthcare workers, particularly nurses.

The availability of healthcare jobs “significantly outweighs the education and credentialing opportunities they need to land those jobs,” Sticka said.

In 2017, a large study conducted by the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration found that there would likely be a significant nursing deficit by 2030 across the country, particularly in Alaska.

One root of the problem was that most of the nurses surveyed belonged to a larger generation of baby boomers about five to 10 years from retirement, the study found.

Healthcare Industry Professionals in Alaska said the pandemic had brought attention to the problem and, in some cases, made it worse.

Months of stressful working conditions during successive waves of COVID-19 have led to increased turnover, burnout, early retirements and departures of healthcare workers.

Meanwhile, the state’s few training options for nurses and healthcare workers have far more applicants than vacancies, and many hospitals continue to rely on a highly paid transient workforce. of the Lower 48 to fill vacancies.

[In-state education options for Alaskans interested in nursing have been limited. That’s starting to change.]

Sticka said the funding was part of a larger health workforce expansion project that would strengthen medical teaching clinical laboratory space at the university.

She said all areas of the state would benefit from an improved healthcare workforce, citing a study last year by the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association that found that for For every job created in the hospital sector in Alaska, another 0.84 of the jobs are created in other industries.

“Supporting the growth of healthcare jobs in Alaska really supports job opportunities in all sectors and is truly a strong economic driver in our state,” she said.

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