As Alaska's population ages, health care employment is increasing

Hospital employment in Alaska has increased steadily in the past 15 years, with "stronger-than-average growth" in the last decade, according to a new economic trends report from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The total number of hospital jobs in Alaska was about 9,000 in 2000, and grew to 13,186 last year, according to numbers from the Labor Department.

As Alaska's population ages, baby boomers are fueling that increase with demand for services.

"The older population is growing faster here than it is in the rest of the U.S., on average," said Labor Department research analyst Mali Abrahamson, in an email.

In the overall health care industry, employment has grown from 31,900 jobs in November 2010 to an estimated 36,800 jobs last month, according to monthly job numbers from the Labor Department. Outside of hospitals, that sector also includes nursing facilities, clinics, dentists and more.

[Health care among bright spots in Alaska job market]

Within that category, hospital jobs span everything from doctors and management to transportation, grounds cleaning and food preparation. The most common hospital jobs are in nursing, the report found.

The state has 21 general hospitals as well as one psychiatric and substance-abuse hospital and one specialty hospital, the report said. Those general hospitals include small rural hospitals, such as Kanakanak Hospital in Dillingham or Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital in Utqiaġvik, formerly known as Barrow.

Private hospitals are where most of the growth is happening, and where most hospital jobs already are, in contrast with local and federal government hospitals.

"As hospitals have continued to expand, their overall employment has increased by about 3 percent per year since 2000, with the vast majority of the growth in private facilities," the report said. "Private employment alone increased by 65 percent between 2000 and 2015."

Hospital wages also grew during that time, "rising by an average of 1.5 percent per year."

At the beginning of this year, the Labor Department predicted that health care would be one sector that would add jobs in contrast to losses in industries like oil and gas, state government and construction.

Though health care is a bright spot for the state in terms of job growth, the trend of high per capita hospital expenses continued through 2015, the report found. Here, the average is $9,600 per year, and nationally that figure is $6,400.

"Alaskans spend more per capita on hospital care than any other state," the report said.

Annie Zak

Annie Zak was a business reporter for the ADN between 2015 and 2019.