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It's tough to hire health care workers nationwide, as well as in the Y-K Delta

Public Health Nursing facility in Bethel, Alaska
Public Health Nursing facility in Bethel, Alaska

There aren’t enough public health care workers in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Organizations large and small are struggling to hire providers.

Bethel’s Public Health Center is drastically understaffed and has been for months. In December 2021, there were two nurses working alongside Nurse Manager Evelina Achee. Now she said that it’s only her and one other itinerant, or travel, nurse in Bethel this month.

“Well right now, I’ve been trying to recruit nurses and do interviews," she said. "I’ve been having a tough time.”

Achee said that staffing shortages have persisted since 2017. She said that the coronavirus pandemic made things even worse. Health care providers are burned out, and many left Bethel to be closer to their families. The Public Health Center has plenty of funding, but there’s no one to pay. Currently the health center is making do with remote and telehealth options, but it’s not the same as having health care providers on the ground in the region.

“We are getting remote workers from throughout the state," Achee said. "All the public health nurses are helping us out, but we are still very low staffed with public health nurses.”

The difficulty in filling health care related positions is on track with what’s going on nationally. According to the American Hospital Association, there was a 30% increase in vacancies for nursing personnel jobs between 2019 and 2020. The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation also has more than 500 job openings listed on its website, and 300 of those positions are tied to the organization's hospital expansion. There are also dozens of openings for community health aides, providers, nurses, and medical technicians outside of Bethel. The health corporation is offering a $5,000 dollar signing bonus for community health aide trainees.

Emily Schwing is a long-time Alaska-based reporter.
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