For Immediate Release
Sept. 25, 2018
Contact: Lisa Demer, 907-334-0529
ldemer@rasmuson.org

Anchorage, AK – A doctor with a notable track record in public health and hospital care will apply that experience to the persistent Anchorage problem of homelessness.

Dick Mandsager, M.D., is Rasmuson Foundation’s first senior fellow.

Dick Mandsager, a pediatrician who spent his early childhood in West Africa and went on to lead two Anchorage hospitals, is Rasmuson Foundation’s first senior fellow. He is delaying his planned retirement to focus on homelessness for the next three years. He will work closely with the new Anchorage Homelessness Leadership Council, which is co-chaired by Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Bruce Lamoureux, regional chief executive for Providence Health & Services Alaska.

Something that an emergency room doctor in Spokane, Wash., told Mandsager years ago still is top of his mind: “Housing is the first and most important prescription.”

“We asked Dick Mandsager to take on this work because he is so widely respected and admired throughout the state as a person of great integrity and accomplishment,” said Diane Kaplan, Rasmuson Foundation president and chief executive. “He has a unique ability to align people and resources for the greater good.”

Mandsager’s father was a doctor who found his path to missionary work through medicine. The young family moved from France to Cameroon in West Africa, traveling six weeks on a freighter with no siderails and two active little boys, Mandsager and his little brother. They spent a decade in Africa.

He went to boarding school as a first grader, “a pretty negative experience.” What he later learned about the trauma of Alaska Native children forced into boarding schools “completely resonated.” And Alaska children had it even worse, he said, being told they couldn’t speak their language or live their culture.

By second grade, he knew he wanted to be a doctor.

A young leader

Mandsager spent two college summers in the 1970s as a research assistant in Utqiaġvik. At Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., he brushed up against the American Indian Movement, the civil rights activist organization known as AIM. He graduated in 1973, the same year that AIM followers occupied the town of Wounded Knee, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He saw that Native American communities were underserved and thought about what he could do.

He joined the U.S. Public Health Service to pay off medical school. He was only 31 years old when he became chief medical officer of the Indian Health Service area serving Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas.

Then, in 1985, he got a job farther north, as director of the Alaska Native Medical Center. A few months in, he learned the hospital was destined to be replaced, and he oversaw that 12-year-long building project. In 1999, the hospital transitioned from Indian Health Service management to ownership by two Alaska Native health care organizations, and Mandsager stayed on in various roles.

In 2004, he became director of the Alaska Division of Public Health, where he oversaw a complete rewrite of the state’s public health law. He then led The Children’s Hospital at Providence and served nine years as chief executive of Providence Alaska Medical Center during a time of expansion.

Dick Mandsager and Diane Kaplan are seen at Bean’s Cafe on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, preparing trays for lunch. More than 300 meals were served. A pasta dish and steamed carrots were added to the plates just before serving time.

‘Humility, respect and knowledge’

“Dr. Mandsager is one of the most well-suited people in Alaska to guide our community’s collective efforts to make homelessness a rare, brief and one-time event for individuals and families,” said Bruce Lamoureux, Providence chief executive. “He combines profound humility, abiding respect for people and extensive knowledge of public health, social services and health care delivery. We are fortunate to have his engagement in this arena.”

Mandsager had planned to spend early retirement volunteering with Brother Francis Shelter. He wanted to expand a program he had worked on with Catholic Social Services and three Anchorage acute care hospitals to provide medical respite beds at the shelter. Then he was asked by Rasmuson Foundation to work full time on homelessness. He started in July.

“That intersection of poverty, homelessness and health kind of has shaped who I am,” he said.

People on the margins can have a better life, and housing is fundamental to that, he added.

If this new effort is successful, he said, Anchorage will see a substantial reduction in homelessness through several tracks of help including rapid rehousing, to help situate those temporarily down and out, and more intensive services for those with mental illness, addictions and other deep-rooted challenges.

He emphasized the goal of the new Anchored Home action plan: “Homelessness will be rare, brief and one-time.” The final plan is set to be released Oct. 4.