5 Things Alaska: 5 Slides, Economic impacts of COVID, Dr. Jeanene Smith

It’s good news that Alaska’s economy is re-opening. But, when will things actually return to normal? Cruises and tourism will likely miss a season. Oil prices remain low. Seafood processors won’t be able to staff up (below). If you go out in a mask now, you’re probably going to keep doing it. Are you really chomping at the bit to get in a crowded restaurant in a week or two?

The collapse of consumer demand will be the story of this time far after a vaccine is found. Just as a diminishing number of folks remember the names of Bear Stearns, Washington Mutual, or Lehman Brothers, the name COVID-19 may get lost to history. But, lots of folks remember the pain of the last recession. Lots of folks will remember the pain of this one well after the public health crisis ends.





With help from Emily Boerger

1. Introducing “5 Slides We’re Discussing”

State of Reform tries to serve as a platform to build community, inform conversations, and elevate some of the most interesting voices and challenges in health reform today. We do this through our daily health care reporting across nine states, our newsletters like this one, and through our annual State of Reform health policy conferences.

So, during this time of COVID, we are launching a new series called “5 Slides We’re Discussing.” The 5 Slides conversation will gather a panel of some of health care and health policy’s most thoughtful minds around a discussion of five slides. Panelists will bring slides with graphics, data points, or illustrations of what they see as the most important challenges facing the sector today.

Next Wednesday from 11:30 to 12:30 AKDT, we host a conversation titled “5 Slides: How philanthropy is addressing COVID-19.” The conversation will feature Steve Williams, COO, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Elena Marks, CEO, Episcopal Health Foundation out of Texas, and Sarah Lyman, Executive Director, Alliance Health Foundation in California. You can learn more and register for the digital event here.

2. COVID impacts on seasonal workforce

The May issue of Alaska Economic Trends provides an update on COVID-19’s impact on employment in Alaska, taking a deep dive into the impacts on the seasonal workforce. Not only will a lack of visitors impact the state’s economy in the summer months, but travel restrictions mean it will be difficult to fill seasonal workforce needs.

One example is the seafood processing workforce where there is a nearly sevenfold increase in employment during the summer months compared to winter. “Processing has an acute need for nonresidents due to remote processing facilities, relatively low pay, and short seasons with high labor demands. Nearly three-quarters of its workers are nonresidents,” reads the report. The Alaska Dept. of Labor will release April employment estimates by region and industry this Friday.


3. CARES Act funding finally approved

The Alaska Legislature voted this week to distribute nearly $1.5 billion in CARES Act funding to Alaskans, businesses, communities, and non-profits. The votes came after the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee approved the funding plan last week, but questions over the legality of the committee’s authority called the entire Legislature back to Juneau.

Included in the funding is $568.6 million to assist communities and local governments in addressing COVID-19 impacts, $290 million to Alaska small businesses, $100 million for Alaska fisheries, $45 million for K-12 classrooms, and $29 million to address rural transportation costs.

4. Video: Jeanene Smith, HMA

Jeanene Smith, MD, is a Principal at Health Management Associates. Previously, Smith served as chief medical officer for the Oregon Health Authority. Taking lessons learned in Oregon, Smith joins us in this edition of “What They’re Watching” to discuss health care reform during difficult times. These remarks were recorded before the COVID outbreak during our October conference in Anchorage.

“As I’ve been reflecting here about Alaska’s challenges, it’s kind of a perfect, sort of, crisis time to really rethink how to do something more innovative and really reform the health care delivery system. Rather than having to cut people, or cut benefits, or cut rates, but trying to come up with a way to kind of cap health care cost trends.”


5. My uncle’s two-month fight with COVID

If I’m honest with you, I wrote this first piece about my uncle as an obituary. He was one of Alaska’s first cases of COVID. He was intubated on March 24th with a ventilator, and the early days of his fight with COVID weren’t good. I held off publishing the piece, watching his progress until I turned it into a post about his fight rather than his death.

Now, after two months in the hospital, he may be longest hospitalized Alaskan dealing with COVID. He was on a ventilator for almost four weeks to the hour, and is now COVID negative. But, his journey back to “normal” is still a months-long path.

These two pieces are part of a column I’ve been penning these last few months about my time during this pandemic at what we once thought would be the epicenter of the disease. I share these, from mental health to education policy. I guess I write these as one part therapy, one part first person history, and hopefully one part a tool to help folks dealing with these issues to know others are, as well.