UA Journey

1949-1958 Conrad Earl Albrecht

Conrad Albrecht served as regent from 1949 to 1957. Photo by Jean Cunningham of the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel

Anchorage

Born June 2, 1905, in Bruderheim, Alberta, Canada, Albrecht arrived in Anchorage in 1935, fresh from an internship at Abington Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia, to join the two-physician staff, headed by Dr. Joseph Romig, at the Alaska Railroad Hospital.

Within weeks he was assigned instead to the colony newly established by the federal government in Palmer for Midwesterners who had lost their farms in the Great Depression. He attended not only the farm families but also Natives, homesteaders and miners in the area. He introduced in 1937 what may have been the first prepaid medicine program in the nation when he arranged with mine owners to treat their workers under a contract covering occupational injury.

When he discovered cases of active tuberculosis at the nearby Eklutna school for Indian teenagers, he established an isolation wing for them at his hospital. The infections awakened him to the prevalence of tuberculosis in Alaska, one of his major public health concerns.

Albrecht joined the U.S. Army in 1941 as a captain and was assigned to the new hospital at Anchorage's Fort Richardson, where he treated casualties from the Aleutian campaign. He later became commanding officer of the Fort Richardson hospital and six other army hospitals in the territory. This further enlightened him to the spread of tuberculosis, particularly in the Bush. He retired from the army in 1945 with the rank of colonel.

Dr. Conrad Earl Albrecht as Alaska Commissioner of Health, 1945-1956. Photo: Alaska State Library, Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Services

In July 1945, Gov. Ernest Gruening appointed Albrecht the territory's first full-time commissioner of health. Previously, the position had been filled on a rotating basis by part-time physicians. Albrecht immediately directed his efforts to eradicating Alaska's tuberculosis epidemic, the highest in the world.

He waged an innovative campaign of mobile units, sending doctors and nurses into the Bush via boat, train, truck and plane. In the four years the clinics operated, they diagnosed more than 4,000 cases of tuberculosis, mostly in the Native population. Findings finally convinced the U.S. Department of Interior to improve funding for Alaska's health needs so that by 1953 the rate of tuberculosis dropped to 15 percent of its wartime level.

The victory was won largely through Albrecht 's success in acquiring former military hospitals for isolation therapy.

In 1956, he left Alaska to become assistant director for mental health and correction for Ohio, where he hoped to learn more about the treatment of mental patients. At that time, Alaska's mentally ill were routinely shipped to a center in Oregon facility which Albrecht opposed, believing patients deserved care closer to home.

Doctor's house in Palmer, 1936. Photo: University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library, Archives & Special Collections, C. Earl Albrecht Papers

When Congress enacted improved conditions for Alaska mental patients, he felt free to accept the position of deputy secretary of health for Pennsylvania in 1958.

In 1963, he was named professor of preventive medicine at Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia, where he obtained his medical degree in 1932, after graduating from Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pa.

A governor of the Arctic Institute of North America, Albrecht proposed in 1966 an international organization to circulate medical information in circumpolar areas. The next year, the International Union for Circumpolar Health was formed, the first joint effort serving health needs at the top of the world. It has 25 member nations.

After retirement from Jefferson in 1975, Albrecht conducted a study of alcoholism in rural Alaska at the state's request. Many of his recommendations, including prohibiting sales of alcohol to intoxicated persons, have been adopted by Alaska and many other states.

Albrecht, a former University of Alaska regent, won many public health awards, and in 1986, the Albrecht Milan Foundation, a supporting body of the circumpolar health region, was established in his honor.

In 1996, his biography, ''Frontier Physician: The Life and Legacy of C. Earl Albrecht,'' by Nancy Jordan, was published.

Dr. Conrad Earl Albrecht , Alaska's first full-time health commissioner and a legendary physician of territorial days, died July 18, 1997, in Bradenton, Fla. He was 92.


Conrad Earl Albrecht is also mentioned in this article

UA Honorary Degree Recipient 1964

Links

Earl Albrecht: The good one man can do Anchorage Daily News, July 20, 1997

Resolution, Board of Regents

Source:

Anchorage Daily News, Sunday, July 20, 1997

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