In Case of Emergency: Local Medical Services and Emergency Air Transport in Southeast Alaska

Authors: Kourtney Johnson*, Department of Geography, University of Montana, Christiane von Reichert, Department of Geography, University of Montana
Topics: Medical and Health Geography
Keywords: Access Theory, Geographic Isolation, Alaska, Health Care
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Lincoln 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Alaska, often referred to as “The Last Frontier”, is a vast, geographically diverse and sparsely settled landscape. Although many popular reality shows tend to exaggerate and dramatize life in Alaska, they do point to an important fact: when an emergency occurs, or someone experiences serious health complications, immediate access to sufficient medical services may not be available. Much of the state’s population faces barriers to accessing needed medical care due to large distances between communities and limited road networks due to coastal locations or challenging terrain. Using Penchansky and Thomas’s five components of Access Theory (1981), this research explores factors that influence access to local medical services and emergency air transportation in Southeast Alaska. Interviews with local health care providers and medevac personnel, field observations, and other qualitative data sources were used to answer the following questions: 1) How does access to health care services vary between rural communities and the regional center in Southeast Alaska? and 2) What role does emergency air transport play in facilitating access to health care services in the Southeastern region? The study found that within the service hierarchy of the Southeast Alaska medical system, the availability of services, particularly certain specialists, was the biggest factor in access to health care. Also, despite the high cost, medevac services provide an increasingly vital role in the health care system.

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