As Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer officially began her campaign as the Democrats' choice for governor, she stopped in Soldotna Wednesday to tell Alaska health care professionals what she plans to do to help meet challenges facing their industry.
Ulmer told the group gathered for its annual meeting that "health care is the fastest growing job sector" in Alaska, and listed nine key issues she would address as governor.
Saying that one of the most serious problems Alaska faces is a shortage of qualified and licensed nurses, Ulmer told the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association that she would continue to work with the University of Alaska Anchorage to provide needed nursing training and to ensure the state does everything possible to eliminate the shortage of qualified nurses.
"Nurses account for the largest percentage of nonresident workers in Alaska," she said. "We have to start in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools to give children the vision of the opportunities in the health care field," Ulmer said.
"I am committed, as governor, to work with schools, the university and with private business to work to meet the challenge," she said.
Other key health-care issues Ulmer listed include prescription-drug costs, Medicare and Medicaid, long-term care, Denali Kid Care, non-profit health organizations, tele-medicine and abortion.
"I want to be very clear on one issue," said Ulmer. "Abortion."
"I don't think the legislature or the governor should be telling the medical profession how to practice medicine, or should intervene in a woman's decision on how to manage her life," she said.
Citing a 25 percent increase in prescription-drug use in Alaska last year, Ulmer said, "It's no mystery who bears the greatest burden of these costs. Our seniors are the most impacted, and they are one of the fastest growing age groups in Alaska.
"At the state level, we can make progress on how we can bring down the cost of prescription drugs. The governor's task force is working on it. And, as governor, I am committed to seeing it work," she said.
Ulmer told the group that long-term care for seniors is another issue in Alaska that's going to get increasing attention.
"In 2000, Alaskans over age 60 made up 8 percent of the population. By 2025, that segment will grow to 20 percent of the population.
"We have to do two things: we must promote wellness through healthy diets, exercise programs and injury prevention, and we must plan for the future ... not just stumble into it."
Ulmer also told the health professionals that in order to make Alaska "the best place to live, work and raise a family, we have to confront the issue of access to health care."
She called attention to Denali Kid Care, a program that assures health care for children. Saying that she served on the Children's Cabinet that recommended the program, Ulmer boasted that "26,000 kids today have health care because of Denali Kid Care."
"We must continue the program," she said.
Ulmer thanked the health workers for their "commitment, dedication and creativity" in seeking solutions to the problems facing their industry and said, "Today, from frostbite to open heart surgery, you can get your care here, in Alaska."
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