Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield aims to drive patient access to care in rural areas by supporting workforce education programs and other funding opportunities.
Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska has earmarked $5.7 million in funding aimed at expanding patient access to care in rural Alaska.
The grants will benefit the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) as a part of Premera’s efforts to drive education and support for nurses and other healthcare providers throughout the state. The Premera grants will also work to establish a grantmaking fund aimed at supporting health centers in expanding patient access to care.
“We’re proud to support the work that Alaska organizations, the university and ANTHC are doing to serve the health care needs of Alaska’s rural communities,” said Jeff Roe, president and CEO of Premera Blue Cross.
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“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 health care providers and sufficient facilities. It is critical to invest in effective, long-term solutions to close the growing gap between urban and rural health care access.”
Specifically, the UAA College of Health Sciences will receive a $1.77 million grant for expanding the university’s associates and bachelors programs in nursing. Program expansion will happen at four of the university’s campuses, three of which are located in rural parts of Alaska.
These grants aim to boost the Recruitment & Retention of Alaska Natives into Nursing (RRANN) program, which aims to improve the nursing workforce among Alaska natives.
“Alaska has the highest health care costs of any state in the nation, and these costs are even higher in Alaska’s rural communities,” UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen pointed out.
“We are committed to growing Alaska’s health care 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 health care needs of rural Alaska and have a desire to return home to their communities to practice.”
ANTHC will receive a $700,000 grant geared to help build its Anchorage-based Education & Development Center (EDC). The EDC represents another integrated health education school in the state, which comes part in parcel with efforts to expand the clinical workforce in Alaska.
“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,” explained 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,” he added. “Each program offers Alaska Native centered learning, dedicated to expanding culturally appropriate health care at the village level.”
Premera also earmarked $3 million of its funding to establishing an entire grantmaking arm in Alaska, run in partnership with the Rasmuson Foundation and housed at the Alaska Community Foundation.
The fund will divvy up grant awards across the state to expand health equity and patient access to care. Grant awards ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 will make it possible for organizations to expand their footprints through building of outpatient clinics, community health centers, and hospitals in underserved areas.
“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.”
Finally, Premera has awarded $300,000 in funding for Community Health Aide/Practitioner training programs across the state. Grants awarded to Norton Sound Health Corporation in Nome, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel, and Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks will help organizations make capital investments and purchase tools that improve CHA/P training.
These grants come as the US health system stares down a physician shortage crisis that is exacerbated in extremely rural states like Alaska. What’s more, patients living in rural areas have greater healthcare needs, Premera stated.
Data from the National Rural Health Association revealed that patients living in rural areas are sicker, poorer, and older than those living in urban areas. These patients are at higher risk of developing chronic disease or experiencing a disability.
These challenges are even more pronounced in Alaska, where nearly 32 percent of the state’s population live in a rural area. Patients living in remote areas face extraordinary barriers to care, with nearly 200 villages in Alaska only being reachable by boat, aircraft, snowmachine or four-wheeler, Premera stated.
Efforts to alleviate these shortages have largely centered on bolstering a clinician workforce and creating incentives for clinicians to practice in rural areas.
Source: Patient Engagement Hit