UAA Chancellor: Committed to solving ‘unacceptable’ loss of accreditation

We appreciate that University of Alaska Anchorage students choose to invest in us for their education and their futures. We are grateful to the extended UAA community that invests in us every day through valuable partnerships, the support of our programs and employment of our graduates. To everyone who has put their trust in us, I am sorry. The loss of accreditation in the School of Education is unacceptable. It is my mission to do everything within my power to help each and every one of our students succeed. I can’t change what happened, but I am committed to solving the problem so our students are confident in the high-quality education they receive at UAA. Our first concern and highest priority is to address the needs of our students. UAA is working with the University of Alaska System and the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, or DEED, to come up with solutions, and DEED announced on Jan. 15 that spring and summer 2019 graduates will still be recommended for licensure by the Alaska State Board of Education. We will continue these efforts and work to obtain approval for teacher licensure for all affected students, no matter when they are scheduled to complete their program. We are also assisting UAA students who choose to complete their education degrees at the University of Alaska Fairbanks or University of Alaska Southeast, both of which have accredited education programs. We hope students will choose to stay at UAA, but we will do everything we can to ensure that transfers can occur, and that students are informed throughout the entire process. The UA Board of Regents is planning to meet with students, the education faculty and the public on Feb. 12 to hear concerns and to make sure they are supported through this difficult situation. While we focus on addressing the immediate needs of affected students, we are also taking the necessary steps to ensure Alaskans who choose to become teachers will have high quality programs available to them here at UAA. As those following the issue know, UAA did not lose accreditation because of a failure with the quality of our programs in the School of Education, but because we failed to demonstrate how we used the proper data to show what our programs have achieved. The fact is that UAA teachers are among the very best in the state. The last two teachers of the year in Alaska are graduates of our programs. And as you may have seen in the news just last week, one of four finalists for teacher of the year for the entire nation is a UAA graduate. To ensure our data collection, analysis and reporting meet the necessary standards going forward, all programs in the School of Education have adopted a nationally respected system called edTPA, a performance-based, subject-specific assessment and support system developed at the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity. To make sure this does not happen in other programs, UAA is investing to ensure that the additional data and reporting needs of programs with specialized accreditation are addressed. The first priority will be to focus on the education programs. I know there’s a lot of work to be done. It’s one thing to restore confidence in UAA among those of you directly affected in the School of Education. But I’m also very conscious of a need to assure the rest of our students and our community that problems of this magnitude are not the norm. The loss of the School of Education’s accreditation has no impact or bearing on the accreditation of any other programs at UAA. UAA just successfully completed a rigorous, institutional-level accreditation process with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. That process forces us to be conscious of the need to continuously improve. When and where we can identify potential problems — particularly those that would impede any student’s ability to achieve his or her educational aspirations — we are committed to resolving them. As the chancellor of UAA, I will do what needs to be done to make sure the educational experience we are providing is worthy of the hard work, time, money and faith each and every student invests in UAA. ^ Cathy Sandeen is the Chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Legislators revive bills to abolish certificate of need program

Two legislators are again seeking to end the state’s healthcare certificate of need program. Identical bills filled prefiled for the 2019 legislative session by Rep. George Rauscher, R-Wasilla, and Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, would abolish the program. It’s at least the third year in a row the Legislature will have considered a bill that would do so. The certificate of need, or CON, program sets up a protocol for hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities seeking to expand the services they offer. In order to build a new expansion costing more than $1.55 million, facility administrators must document and demonstrate a need for the added service capacity in the community to the state. Alaska is one of 35 states that have a certificate of need program; since the federal requirement for the programs was repealed in 1987, a number of states have scrapped them, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. Those opposing the program say that it unnecessarily restricts health care facilities from developing new services and competition that could drive down prices. Small communities may not be able to open a full-service hospital or nursing home, for example, because the population is not large enough to pay for it and it does not meet the certificate of need requirements. In other cases, independent ambulatory surgery centers are not able to open and compete with hospitals because the hospital already provides that service. During committee discussions in the legislature in 2017, the federal government offered support for the repeal of the program in Alaska. The Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice submitted a joint letter in response to a request from Wilson detailing problems with the certificate of need program and stating that it may be limiting competition. “CON laws raise considerable competitive concerns and generally do not appear to have achieved their intended benefits for health care consumers,” the FTC and DOJ wrote in their letter. “For these reasons, the Agencies historically have suggested that states consider repeal or retrenchment of their CON laws. We respectfully suggest that Alaska repeal its CON laws.” Federal agencies have been working on ways to implement better competition in the health care industry after President Donald Trump issued an executive order in October 2017 to facilitate choice and competition in the health care industry. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services identified the repeal of certificate of need laws as a priority in an update to the president. The hospital and nursing home industry largely opposes repealing the program. The Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association testified against the bill in previous committee hearings and, in response, convened a workgroup last summer to outline suggested changes to the bill. Though the stakeholders see room for improvement in the program, a full repeal is overly simplistic, said Jeannie Monk, senior vice president of ASHNHA. “The people who want to repeal it think that we need to repeal it and just let the free market take over, and then prices will go down,” she said. “Based on what we’ve seen, we just don’t think that healthcare in Alaska is a typical free market system.” The competition argument doesn’t hold a lot of water for the industry, Monk said. Health care doesn’t behave like a typical capitalist market — when a new service is installed at a facility, it often just results in more people receiving that service rather than a price decrease, she said. Alaska also has the limiting factor of being an isolated state; unlike in the Lower 48, where people can cross state lines to visit competing hospitals in a neighboring state, Alaska is not a hotspot for medical tourism and has a relatively small population. “It’s not like you put in a new hospital and you can draw more people to use it,” she said. “(In Alaska) you’re either here or you’re not.” Hospitals have a disadvantage in competing against standalone facilities like independent ambulatory surgery centers; they are obligated to provide some services, like 24-hour emergency center care, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay. Hospitals rebalance that with a mix of insurance payers and across services. Private organizations, which do not have the same service obligations, would not have to take patients on Medicaid or Medicare, which have a lower reimbursement rate and are less profitable, Monk said. “(Hospitals) come with significant fixed costs,” she said. “Basically, without CON, healthcare providers can open up facilities that compete on the profitable services but not the unprofitable ones.” The workgroup convened by ASHNHA developed a series of recommendations for changes to the certificate of need program, all of which could bypass the Legislature and be done through regulation change. Many of those changes are technical, including how the net present value of a lease is calculated or how a “community” is defined. The suggested changes were sent to the state in June 2018; however, they didn’t get through the department before the transition in administrations in November, Monk said. Rauscher’s and Wilson’s offices could not be reached for comment. The two bills have not yet been scheduled for committee hearings. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

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