Community Perspective

UAF provides critical training, resources for Alaska

In 2017, the Greater Fairbanks Community Hospital Foundation created a local operating entity, Foundation Health Partners, and discontinued contracting with an out-of-state health system for operations management. This change was made to better serve our patients, the community and to better meet the unique needs of Interior Alaska.

The health care industry nationally is experiencing tremendous change as it grapples with serving a greater number of seniors, changing technologies, workforce shortages, expanded regulatory requirements, and related concerns from patients and insurers regarding costs. To be successful in this environment, we must be strategic, nimble, and collaborate effectively with partners.

As the chief executive officer at Foundation Health Partners, I greatly value the longtime relationship our operating entities — Tanana Valley Clinic, Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, Denali Center, and TVC Orthopedics and Sportsmedicine Fairbanks — have had with the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the University of Alaska system office.

For more than 100 years, the University of Alaska has provided Fairbanks with educational offerings and cultural enrichment. Today UAF is the flagship of the system with an international research portfolio, a statewide educational mission and attention to our local workforce needs.

UAF provides associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees as well as masters and Ph.Ds in addition to short courses and career and technical education. Foundation Health Partners hires students from the Career and Technical College’s certified nursing assistant and medical assistant programs; graduates of the University of Alaska Anchorage nursing program, which is delivered in Fairbanks in collaboration with UAF; social work graduates from the College of Liberal Arts; accounting and business administration graduates from the School of Management, and others.

The education and workforce training UAF provides is critical for Foundation Health Partners’ ability to hire qualified and well-trained employees.

Foundation Health Partners is in the process of updating our three-year Community Health Needs Assessment. I am therefore pleased to see the increased emphasis on One Health research at UAF, exploring the intersection between environmental health, animal health and human health. We are lucky to lead the nation in cutting-edge research on hibernation with application for human health.

Research findings will improve our understanding of, and ability to adapt to, Alaska’s unique conditions and will assist us in achieving healthier communities. 

Cultural enrichment and entertainment are also important aspects of our local university, whether it’s through the Fairbanks Symphony and Theatre UAF or through one of the Alaska Nanooks intercollegiate athletics teams. These activities and events add to the enjoyment of living in Interior Alaska. UAF is a key factor cited by many of our recruits as one of the reasons Fairbanks is an attractive place to work, live and raise a family.

Like the University of Alaska, Foundation Health Partners will be adversely impacted by state budget reductions, and we understand the university’s need to discuss different ways of doing business. However, I am hopeful the end product will still allow the university to be an effective partner in meeting our unique regional needs and, indeed, join us in coming out even stronger in the future.

In the meantime, we know these are stressful times for our colleagues and friends at UAF and in the system office. Please join me in showing appreciation for the university by attending an athletics event, play, musical performance, open house, exhibit or public lecture.

Encourage friends and family members of all ages to seek their higher education or workforce training through UAF, voted twice in recent years as one of the best small universities in the country. And best of luck to all the students, faculty and staff for a successful and productive academic year.

Shelley Ebenal is chief executive officer of Foundation Health Partners.

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