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C. Earl Albrecht, M.D., Alaska Health Pioneer
By Tricia Brown Page 1 of 2   Next ยป

Dr. C. Earl Albrecht was 30 years old and had just completed work as an intern and chief resident physician at Pennsylvania's Abington Memorial Hospital when he made the move to Alaska in 1935. Albrecht had been hired to assist Alaska Railroad Hospital superintendent Dr. John H. Romig. His arrival coincided with the year of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal plan of establishing a farming colony in the Matanuska Valley, north of Anchorage.

For the territory and for Albrecht himself, the timing was perfect. The need for an ambitious, talented physician was great. Later that year, Albrecht was invited to relocate to Palmer, where ultimately he worked the equivalent of two full-time jobs: physician for the Alaska Rural Rehabilitation Corporation's Matanuska Colonization Project and medical director of the Matanuska Valley Hospital. Albrecht also found time to participate in launching Palmer's United Protestant Church, serving as chairman of the committee to write the articles of incorporation.

Albrecht served the valley residents and new colonists from 1935 to 1941, when he entered military service. During the next four years, he was stationed at Fort Richardson, where he was elevated to post surgeon and commanding officer of the 183rd Station Hospital.

Few physicians in Alaska's history were able to bring about as much positive social change as did Albrecht. He served as the territory's first full-time Health Commissioner under the Department of Health from 1945 to 1956, an appointment by Gov. Ernest Gruening. During those years he battled against the "scourge of Alaska," targeting tuberculosis as Alaska's greatest health crisis.

Dr. Robert Fortuine, in his 1998 article about Albrecht in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health, discussed the physician's effectiveness in attempts to control the tuberculosis epidemic in Alaska: "When Dr. Albrecht became commissioner, the epidemic was at its peak. With an obvious zest for battle, he organized a campaign on many fronts, with initial emphasis on case-finding, establishing a tuberculosis register, and making available hospital beds both for orthopedic and pulmonary tuberculosis. Later, BCG vaccination, ambulatory chemotherapy, and chemoprophylaxis were added to the battle plan. The results were strikingly successful. He became an eloquent spokesman and advocate for health in both Juneau and Washington, and was successful in obtaining greatly increased territorial and federal appropriations, not to mention surplus military buildings, ships, and supplies."

Albrecht also served on the University of Alaska Board of Regents from 1949-1958, and during his tenure promoted rural education. Recognizing Albrecht's stellar work in medicine and education, the University of Alaska awarded him an honorary doctoral degree in 1964.

When Albrecht relocated to Ohio and Pennsylvania for more than a decade, he continued a career marked by achievement. From 1956-58, he worked as Assistant Director of the Ohio Department of Mental Hygiene and Correction, and from 1958-63, he served as Deputy Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health. From 1963-70, Albrecht accepted a teaching position, taking the post of Professor of Preventive Medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

Returning to Alaska in 1970, Albrecht entered in private practice once more, and "doctored" his patients for five years until retirement in 1975. Still, he continued to serve as a medical consultant. In the 1970s and 80s, Albrecht threw his efforts into fighting the effects of alcoholism, particularly among rural Alaskans.

Never content to retire completely, Albrecht was a president and board member of the American Society for Circumpolar Health and was counted among the founders of the International Symposium for Circumpolar Health, participating in that organization's activities for 40 years. After a long and fruitful life, Alaska's pioneer physician died in Bradenton, Florida, on July 18, 1997, at age 92.

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Dr. C. Earl Albrecht
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Mobile Health Unit
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Doctor's house in Palmer
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