ECON 919 - Population trends driving health care investment

Feb 1, 2019


Work continues apace on an expansion project at Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna updating the obstetrics wing and adding a catheterization lab. Planning began on the project more than two years ago.



The borough assembly will vote on authorizing an additional $1.2 million to see the project through to completion, bringing the total cost to about $5 million. The catheterization lab in particular is a reflection of changing population statistics, as the Peninsula continues to age more quickly than much of the rest of the state, says Bruce Richards. He’s the hospital’s Director of Government Affairs and Marketing.

“In putting together the Certificate of Need applications for the last few projects, I’ve had first hand knowledge in looking at that, and that was one of the drivers for the cath lab. Our population on the Peninsula is one of the fastest-growing 65 and older age cohorts on the road system. The average age here is much higher than Anchorage or the Mat-Su Valley... If you look at the last project, having the cancer treatment center and (now) a cath lab, these are all services that our population requires.”

The cath lab will expand the hospital’s capacity for certain cardiac procedures.

“We have not been able to offer that in the past because it just wasn’t justifiable volume-wise. It’s an expensive, high-end department. But that is something we now think we can offer here so people won’t have to travel to Anchorage for catheterization procedures, whether it’s an emergency catheterization or if there’s interventional radiology procedures... This is something the community hasn’t had access to before and we’re excited to offer that.”

But that doesn’t mean the hospital’s obstetrics ward is slowing down all that much. Richards says the improvements being made there are helping modernize that part of the hospital for current demands and safety standards.

“That’s the OB piece of this; we’re moving it up on the second floor, the security is going to be much better, plus it also puts it next to the medical/surgical floor and the hospital beds that we have. The hospital has been quite full lately, so, this is going to allow us, if there are people here delivering, to be able to (move) into those rooms. It’s kind of like a room expansion just by virtue of having that project there.”

The remodel and new department additions are set to be complete by the end of 2019.

Now, time for this week’s number, as long as we’re talking health care: $98,020

That’s the average salary for health care workers in Alaska, highest in the nation, according to a recent issue of Alaska Economic Trends. The national average is around $80,000. Obstetricians and pediatric doctors push that average up, with each field’s own average salary north of $250,000. That doesn’t count specialists who are self-employed, and may likely make quite a bit more. And the range nationally is fairly wide. For example, a dental hygienist in Alaska will make double that of someone in Alabama. Alaska falls to the bottom half of the rankings in categories like athletic trainers and internists, both earning salaries in the low to mid 40’s.