Premera funds to help bolster rural health care in Alaska

Juneau, Alaska (AP) - A health insurer in Alaska has announced plans to provide $5.7 million to help bolster rural health care in the state.

The funds pledged by Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska will go toward the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the University of Alaska Anchorage and a new grant-making program administered by the Rasmuson Foundation in partnership with the Alaska Community Foundation according to a report in the Juneau Empire.

The grant-making program, which will be known as the Rural Health Care Fund, will get $3 million of the pledged funds. Grants ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 will be given to rural outpatient clinics, community health centers and hospitals for small capital improvement projects and medical equipment, said Jeff Roe, president and CEO of Premera Blue Cross.

Roe said at a press conference in Anchorage that expanding the reach of health care will help to reduce costs for everyone.

The University of Alaska Anchorage will receive $1.77 million to expand its nursing programs. Money will be used to help expand the university's Recruitment and Retention of Alaska Natives into Nursing program in rural Alaska.

"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," UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen said.

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium is set to receive $700,000 to help build a center to train health care workers in a variety of fields.

Sandeen said Alaska's high health care costs are felt especially in rural communities.

"Even for those workers who come up to Alaska and stay, they often lack the cultural awareness that makes them very effective in rural communities," she said, adding that training an Alaska-based workforce would create health care workers better equipped to Alaska's challenges.

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