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Arne Beltz, with a physician father and a nurse mother, grew up in a household which was built around the patients. Inspired by her father’s dedication to his patients, she chose a career in nursing.
After completing college with a major in biology, Beltz obtained a Masters in Nursing from Yale School of Nursing (1940-42) and in 1947 completed the Public Health Nursing Program at NYU. Initially working as a visiting nurse in New York and in the Philippines as a member of the Army Nurse Corp (1945), she then entered the Public Health Service in Georgia. When the supervising nurse asked for volunteers to go to Alaska, Beltz said “yes.”
She started her nursing career in Alaska in 1948, fighting a TB outbreak in Wrangell and then, as the itinerate public health nurse, served Kake and Angoon (1950-51), supervised the Fairbanks Health Center (1952-56) and then was assigned to Unalakleet and surrounding villages, including Stebbins, St. Michael, Koyuk and Shaktoolik (1954-59). The job of the itinerate public health nurse was around the clock, subject to call at any time, and often the only medical help available. Beltz recalls some of the challenges she faced, such as having to sew up a man’s scalp in Angoon which he had accidentally split open with his ax. She also faced a polio epidemic in Fairbanks with the difficulties of sterilizing and reassembling, after each shot, the glass syringes and needles so each school child could be immunized. Beltz cited her work with infants and babies, as well as with victims of TB, as having provided the most satisfaction. She found working and living in the villages very rewarding and credited the success of the program in those early years to the one-on-one home visits to each family, allowing the nurse to observe and teach and the family to confide.
As manager of the Community Health Services Division of the Municipality of Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services for 20 years (1960-80), she created many new programs and entities. After the 1964 earthquake, Beltz set up and directed diphtheria and typhoid clinics in Anchorage and other locations. In the early 1970s she pioneered the use of nurse practitioners in women’s health in Alaska. Beltz organized the Municipality of Anchorage, the Department of Health and Human Services and federal Title X family planning funds into a training facility for premed, nursing, village aides, public health nurses, students earning their masters’ degrees in social work, medical assistants and nurse practitioners. Under her leadership, the Women, Infants and Children’s Nutrition Program, the Child Abuse Board, the Home Health Agency and the Family Planning and Women’s Health Program were started. Beltz and the division initiated a project to train nurse practitioners to perform certain gynecological procedures and that program received national and international attention. Many of the health-related non-profits in Anchorage exist today due to her encouraging staff to participate in professional organizations and engage in community service.
Beltz was active with the Alaska State Nurses Association, serving as president (1973-75) and was instrumental in educating state legislators about the role of the itinerate public health nurse in Alaska’s villages. She also advocated for the increased roles advanced nurse practitioners would be authorized to perform under the Nurse Practice Act.
Arne married William Beltz and they had four children: Mark, William, Kathy and Axel. William Beltz was elected to both the territorial and state legislatures and served as the first President of the Alaska State Senate.
In 1990 Beltz was honored for her many contributions in public health nursing in both the state and the city by the Municipality which named the building housing the Department of Health and Human Services as the Arne Beltz Building. In 1991 she was inducted into the Alaska Women’s Commission Hall of Fame and, in 2003, was honored to be one of the first four nurses in the state to be nominated to the Alaska Nurses’ Hall of Fame.
One who worked for many years with Beltz summed up her leadership skills by stating: “Arne had the ability to bring out the best in the people who worked with her…she gave them the freedom to do the job…she gave…good direction…creativity flourished…and (she was) a team player herself… . (H)er willingness to lead by example was inspirational to those she worked for and those who worked for her.”
Beltz is regarded as a visionary leader in public health, one who shaped its practices and institutions and played a key role in Alaska’s major health events, as well as serving as a mentor and inspiration to all who worked with her.