Demand for health services on the Kenai Peninsula continues to grow. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population increased 11.5 percent from 2000 to 2010, and persons 65 years old and over is at 11 percent — the highest in the state. Shortages in health care persist among such increases, but the Peninsula is aided by local college programs.
The Central Peninsula Hospital is proceeding with their long-term strategic plan, expanding and adding services once available only in Anchorage.
Kenai Peninsula College is producing professionals to help these demands. Nursing and paramedical technology program graduates are choosing to serve the Peninsula after graduation.
Health care and social services accounted for 16 percent of the average monthly employment total in the Kenai Peninsula for the first quarter of this year, according to the Department of Workforce and Labor Development.
One of the main reasons the paramedical technology program was created at KPC was that hires from the Lower 48 would not stick around, Paul Perry, instructor of paramedical technology, said.
He detailed an example of a paramedic from Florida. After spending hours training the paramedic to regional procedures, the winter season hit and the recruit no longer wanted to live in the area after a short experience with the cold temperatures.
“We were recruiting only to get them trained and then leave,” he said.
“So, we felt that if we did the training from within, we pulled from the Peninsula populace, they would stay, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
Many of the department’s students are hired locally; a total of nine hired by the Nikiski Fire Department and seven hired by Central Emergency Services.
The program is competitive with seats limited to 14 per year. Students are learning some of the newest medical techniques from Perry, having recently returned from a two-week course in Baltimore.
Perry completed the Critical Care Emergency Medical Transport Provider certification; one of the highest levels of paramedical certifications available. He’s using his newly learned skills in the classroom.
“By going to Baltimore I was able to go into labs. I was able to do rapid sequence intubation in autopsy labs. I was able to practice surgical airway procedures,” he said. “I went there to ensure my skills were where they needed to be.”
Improved techniques for medical transport increase the quality of treatment for Peninsula residents. Residents may need to travel 20 to 30 minutes before reaching a doctor, Perry said.
CPH has added services, such as urology and neurology, and the hospital also added an orthopedic spine surgeon to their staff.
“We’ve had a lot of growth, and we anticipate continued growth in health care for the Peninsula,” Ryan Smith, CPH chief executive officer, said.
A large percentage of the nurses that have graduated from the KPC nursing program are also at the hospital, he said.
“We probably have 20 or so nurses who are working here that have graduated through that program,” Smith said. “That has been a huge boon to us. We don’t have contract nurses like a lot of other hospitals do.”
Janet Gleason, assistant professor of nursing at KPC, has worked at the hospital for 20 years. The demand for nurses is undeniable, she said.
The hospital recently decided to expand its surgical services by adding a fourth surgical operating room. The expansion will need to be supplemented with additional surgical and recovery nurses.
Students in the KPC nursing program travel to Anchorage for three weeks and are assigned to a pediatric unit. A number of students stay on the Peninsula for this training, and the last cohort of students to stay here saw more births than students in Anchorage, Gleason said.
Another indicator of growing health care demands in the area is CPH’s utilization statistics. Over the past seven years births at the hospital have increased by 23.42 percent. Every service has seen an increase, including emergency visits, X-ray procedures and surgical cases.
The nursing and paramedical programs are, for the most part, keeping up with demand, but shortages in health care persist.
“Nationally, and the same goes for done here, there is a massive shortage in all health care,” Perry said.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at email@example.com.