Mat-Su Regional Medical Center is now the only place in Alaska where patients can receive hyperbaric treatment.

The program relies on altering air pressure around patients, which can markedly improve patients' recovery.

"Essentially what we do is dive them down to 66 to 70 feet below sea level with 100-percent oxygen," said Dr. Rachel Cuevas, explaining the procedure. "(It) gives them more oxygen in their system to help heal."

Cuevas is the medical director for the Advanced Wound Care and Hyperbaric Therapy Center that opened in October. She said the new equipment has changed the way staff care for patients. People with frostbite, for example, used to have to fly to Seattle for treatment or risk amputation.

"One of the first patients we ran in the chamber had lived her entire life out there in the Valley," Cuevas said. "She had blood clots go to her toes and they were looking at amputating seven of her toes. We put her in the hyperbaric chamber for a number of treatments and we saved all of her toes."

Not only is the center providing a new kind of care, it's also brought about 10 jobs to the Mat-Su.

During Alaska's recession, health care continues to be a bright spot.

The latest report from UAA's Institute for Social and Economic Research shows Alaska gained 600 health care jobs in 2018; another 500 are expected to be added this year too.

Cuevas isn't surprised by that data.

"Health care is one of those things you can't do without," she said.

Mat-Su Regional currently has more than 800 employees. The hospital will add dozens of more jobs as it expands operations to the building's third floor and opens a new behavioral health unit.

"We're in the east wing of our medical surgical unit, we're expanding and adding 35 beds," said CEO Dave Wallace, showing off the new area that's still under construction. The entire renovation will cost about $16.5 million.

Wallace said Mat-Su Regional's emergency room is often overcrowded, but the addition means more space for treatment to meet the growing needs of the region's rising population.

"There are also nursing homes coming to the Valley for the first time and other services we work in tandem with, so we're excited about developing the work force and making this a great place for health care workers to come," he said.

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