6 takeaways from our investigation of Anchorage health director Joe Gerace

Anchorage's acting health director Joe Gerace speaks with journalists inside the Sullivan Arena shelter
Anchorage’s acting health director Joe Gerace takes journalists on a tour of the Sullivan Arena shelter on Nov. 1, 2021. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Joe Gerace, who resigned suddenly as Anchorage health director on Monday citing his own health, used a fabricated resume to get the job, an investigation by American Public Media and Alaska Public Media has found. Gerace lied about his degrees, exaggerated his military experience, and misled the city about his medical training. In an interview prior to his resignation, Gerace veered between defending his resume as factual and admitting that it was misleading. Mayor Dave Bronson has yet to respond to the revelations or explain what his administration did to vet Gerace. “Joe’s service to Anchorage and the Anchorage Health Department is greatly appreciated,” Bronson said in a press release announcing Gerace’s resignation. “I will miss his dedication, hard work, and commitment to help our city’s underserved.”

Here are six key takeaways from the investigation.

1. Gerace has tried to pass himself off as a high-ranking officer in the Alaska National Guard. He isn’t one.

Joe Gerace told the city in an introductory email last year that he was a “Lieutenant Colonel – Alaska Guard,” an impressive rank. The Bronson administration identified him accordingly in a press release and a confirmation hearing before the Anchorage Assembly. But Gerace now admits that he is not a member of the Guard. He serves in the Alaska State Defense Force, a volunteer organization with fewer than 200 members that is not part of the U.S. Armed Forces. The U.S. Army says its records show Gerace hasn’t served since the 1990s, spending eight years mostly in the Reserve and leaving with a rank one step above private. In a separate resume that Gerace used to get his previous job at a COVID vaccination clinic, he claimed to have served for 24 years with five combat deployments. He now admits that he never saw combat. The Alaska State Defense Force has called a special staff meeting to review and verify the materials Gerace submitted with his application.

2. Gerace doesn’t have one master’s degree, let alone two.

The resume Gerace presented to the Assembly claims he holds two master’s degrees in physician assistant studies and business administration. But it doesn’t say what schools supposedly granted him the degrees. In an interview Monday, Gerace claimed to have earned his MBA at Henry Cogswell College in Everett, Washington. But that’s impossible, because the now-defunct school was authorized only to grant bachelor’s degrees at the time. Gerace refused to say where he got the other degrees. But in 2000, two years after he claims to have earned his second master’s, Gerace told a court that his highest level of education was a bachelor’s. Gerace made the declaration under penalty of perjury as part of a child support case. Eleven years later, when he was running for a city council seat in a suburb of Tacoma, Washington, Gerace claimed to have two bachelor’s degrees. He didn’t mention any master’s degrees. Back then, he said his undergraduate degrees were in business and history. Now, he says he only has one bachelor’s degree in chemistry – not two as he claimed on the resume he submitted to the city. 

The only school our investigation was able to confirm that Gerace attended was Northern Virginia Community College, where he studied for three years starting at age 16. The school, which offers only associate’s degrees and certificates, has no record of Gerace receiving either one.

3. Gerace falsely claimed to be a physician assistant and a paramedic.

Gerace told the city he had been a physician assistant since 1992 — a highly skilled clinical professional that is allowed to practice medicine and prescribe drugs under the supervision of a doctor. Gerace now admits that he never worked as a PA or held a license to do so. A spokesman for Visit Healthcare, where Gerace worked before coming to the city, said the company had believed Gerace was a PA when it hired him to oversee COVID-19 vaccinations. Gerace claims that he has the education to be one, but refused to say where he got it.

Gerace also told the city that he had been a paramedic since 1985, when he was 18. In Alaska, he is only licensed as an advanced EMT, a lower-skilled designation. His EMT license in Washington State, where he lived before moving to Alaska, expired in 1993. In 2020, he applied for and received a paramedic license in Montana, one of only three states that does not require a national certification, but Gerace said the state rescinded his license because he didn’t meet the criteria. Montana’s EMT database still shows his license as active.

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4. The Bronson administration was warned that Gerace’s resume didn’t add up. 

During Gerace’s confirmation process, one of his former employees warned the Assembly and the Bronson administration that Gerace’s resume was questionable. Emma Jacobson, who Gerace fired from Visit Healthcare, told city leaders she suspected he had embellished his professional and military qualifications. In spite of her warnings, the administration pushed ahead with the confirmation. HR director Niki Tshibaka claimed Gerace was a victim of “pure character assassination.” Shortly after Jacobson testified about her concerns in a closed-door Assembly meeting attended by the Mayor, the Assembly voted to confirm Gerace. 

5. Gerace’s tenure as health director has been tumultuous.

Since Gerace took over as health director less than a year ago, nearly every top official working under him has either left the department or been fired. Two Anchorage hospitals had to ration care to cope with a surge in COVID-19 patients, while the health department posted links to studies about unproven treatments for COVID. 

More recently, Gerace oversaw the closing of the city’s main homeless shelter at the Sullivan Arena. Critics said the move was unnecessary and contributed to a “humanitarian crisis” at an East Anchorage campground where many Sullivan guests were moved.

6. Gerace’s actual work history includes decades of financial troubles, short-lived business ventures and low-to-mid-level jobs.

Gerace’s resume lists only one paid, full time job—managing a COVID vaccination clinic for seven months in 2021. His actual work history, compiled through public records, includes stints as a police officer, a firefighter, a truck driver and a building supply sales manager. He also experienced bouts of unemployment. He’s been sued multiple times for unpaid bills. He filed for bankruptcy twice, but did not complete the process either time. He briefly ran a gun store in Washington State and a pair of gas stations in Alaska. Environmental officials said he seemed to have purposefully misled them and falsified records about inspections at a gas station he leased. 

READ THE FULL STORY: Anchorage Health Department director resigns amid investigation into fabricated resume

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