Dr. Richard Mandsager '73
Shortly after Dr. Richard Mandsager arrived in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1985 to assume his new role as director of the Alaska Native Medical Center, he learned that Congress had tagged the then 40-year-old facility for a complete rebuild.
For the newcomer a few months into the job, it wasn’t your average project.
Mandsager would spend the next 12 years leading the $167 million project to build a new, 400,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art hospital to replace the existing facility, originally built in 1954 to house tuberculosis patients following World War II.
After a massive earthquake shook Anchorage in 1964, engineers called the old hospital’s footing “vulnerable” for more than 20 years before government funding was finally secured for a rebuild. Inside, the old hospital was cramped and efforts by staff to “make do” were visible everywhere – from the rebuilt electrical system, to the worn-out plumbing and awkwardly placed equipment, oftentimes taking up residence in the building’s narrow hallways due to lack of storage.
When it opened in 1997, the new Alaska Native Medical Center was among the most expensive buildings ever constructed in Anchorage.
But for Mandsager, a biology major at Augustana and a native of Marshalltown, Iowa, the colossal project wasn’t just about brick and mortar.
In 1999, the federal government officially turned the hospital’s operations over to tribal management after two years of what Mandsager called “complicated negotiations.” Since then, tribal leadership has run the 150-bed facility and has led ancillary expansion projects to include a full range of medical specialties, primary care services and labs, designing programs and care to best meet the needs of Alaska Native and American Indian people living in Alaska.
A Career in Service
The son of a physician and missionary, Mandsager spent much of his youth in Cameroon, Central Africa. He grew up watching his father care for people in need and says those experiences had a significant impact on him.
“I’ve known practicing medicine was what I wanted to do since I was in second grade."
"I was drawn to it. Seeing what my father did, the older I got, the more I realized it was about service,” he said.
While studying under Augustana biology professors Dr. Sven Froiland and Dr. Larry Tieszen, Mandsager said he was influenced by the American Indian Movement and began considering how he might contribute to Native American health as a physician.
While working toward his M.D. at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, he learned that the Public Health Service was offering scholarships to students who would agree to serve in poor, underserved areas of the U.S.
He signed on to the United States Public Health Service Corps, eventually rising to the rank of Rear Admiral before his retirement.
He completed his residency in pediatrics at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California College of Medicine, a public teaching hospital that counts the poor and immigrants among those it serves.
He became, he said, “hooked on public medicine.”
He left California to serve as a pediatrician in Talihina, Oklahoma, before being named deputy director and chief medical officer for Indian Health Programs in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas.
He was all of 32 years old.
“Yeah, I started the migration to administrative medicine early in my career,” he said, remembering. “I couldn’t have verbalized it at the time, but I like being part of a team that builds bridges. I found out that’s where I could contribute.”
Mandsager and his wife, Ruth, were ready for a change of scenery when the position in Anchorage opened.
After leading the Alaska Native Medical Center rebuild project, Mandsager continued to serve the hospital before being tapped for the director position with the State of Alaska’s Division of Public Health. There, he worked to update and rewrite Alaska’s public health law and its certification and licensure law.
“It was an incredible project – it was the first updating of public health laws in the state of Alaska since the territorial days.”
He joined Providence Health and Services in Anchorage in 2006, first serving as executive director of the Children’s Hospital before assuming the role of chief executive officer in 2009. He continues to serve in the CEO role today, overseeing all aspects of operation for the Providence Alaska Medical Center, the largest hospital in the state.
Throughout his career, Mandsager has also worked as an active civic and community volunteer, serving as chairman for Lutheran Social Services of Alaska and as a board member for the Anchorage United Way.
At 62, Mandsager says his faith and his volunteerism have played important roles in his life, and will continue to do so in the future.
“I like building bridges,” he said. “It’s not just paid work, it’s other areas where we contribute that are really important.”
In recognition of his dedication and commitment to public health and service, Mandsager will receive the Alumni Achievement Award during Viking Days this fall.