A nonprofit that works to increase access to health care in Alaska has received nearly $10 million in federal funding to bolster the state’s chronically understaffed medical workforce, by especially support staff.
The $9.7 million grant was announced earlier this month by US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. The grant, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, was awarded to just 32 recipients nationwide out of 509 applicants.
The money will be shared with about 40 different organizations across the state over the next three years, according to Nancy Merriman, CEO of the nonprofit. Alaska Primary Care Association. The association estimates the funds could support more than 3,000 Alaskans during that time, Merriman said.
Alaska is currently in the midst of a significant healthcare worker shortage that existed before the pandemic, but has worsened as many nurses and other frontline workers in the field have retired or quit altogether. the field after months of grueling or untenable working conditions during multiple COVID-19 surges.
A 2021 state health department dashboard noted that “Alaska has a labor shortage in many health and behavioral health disciplines and is struggling to meet at the request of the health industry”.
Jared Kosin, president of the Alaska Hospital & Healthcare Association, recently called the worker shortage the biggest pressure point currently facing healthcare facilities in the state.
Merriman said the association plans to spend the grant money in three main ways: introducing high school students to healthcare careers; provide basic training and certifications for Alaskans looking to quickly change careers; and expanding an existing apprenticeship program focused on healthcare jobs that would allow participants to earn a living wage while learning a new trade.
In recent years, solutions to the state’s medical workforce shortage have included plans to increase the number of seats in the state’s medical school and open up more training options for Alaskans. interested in nursing careers.
Merriman said while increasing the number of health care providers in the state was important, the grant was also intended to address support staff shortages.
“We still absolutely need doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners and (physician assistants), but we also need people to work directly with Alaskans in other ways,” she said. .
Some of the most overlooked but equally important careers include medical billing and coding, medical and dental assistants, pharmacy technicians and community health workers, Merriman said. The organization plans to add six new learning streams using the funds.
“The good thing about an apprenticeship is that it’s a job,” she says. “So people are learning while making money and learning a new trade.”
The goal of short-term training and certifications is to launch careers for people who don’t want to invest in long educational programs or go into debt before starting their careers, Merriman said.
The plan was to offer “a three-week course that’s free,” she says. “And they’ll come out with basic, entry-level certifications, so they can be matched with real jobs in the field.”
Opportunities for high school students included working with school districts to provide “Exploration Camps” and other introductions to many health care careers.
Merriman said the planning phase for the project is scheduled to begin Sept. 1, and Alaskans can follow the Alaska Primary Care Association’s social media pages for updates.
They can also visit the organization’s website for a list of current opportunities.
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