Context: The Community Health Aide Program (CHAP) is a unique program employing local, indigenous peoples as primary care nonphysician providers in extremely remote frontier, tribal Alaskan communities. With attrition rates up to 20%, recommendations for improving retention are necessary to maintain access to health services for Alaska Natives in these communities.
Purpose: The purpose of this study was to identify factors contributing to retention in Alaska's CHAP program.
Methods: Key informant interviews were conducted with 41 community health aides/practitioners (CHA/Ps) in 15 villages statewide. Efforts were made to ensure the sample included a mix of villages with high retention of health aides and villages with lower retention. Geographic and ethnic diversity were also considered. Transcripts were coded using NUD*IST software, and data were analyzed for differences between high retention and low retention villages and between more experienced and less experienced CHA/Ps.
Findings: Five fundamental needs of health aides were identified as crucial for retention of personnel. These needs include strong co-worker support, access to basic training, a fully staffed clinic, good community support, and supportive families.
Conclusions: For 35 years, the CHAP program has worked to diminish health disparities for Alaska Natives. Though unique challenges associated with the job have factored into low retention of CHA/Ps, improved retention is possible with easier access to basic training, increased support from colleagues and community, enhanced team-building skills, and better on-call schedules.