ALAMOSA — One of the biggest needs in San Luis Valley healthcare is finding workers.
This is one of the many challenges the Region 8 Healthcare Sector Partnership has tackled since its inception nearly three years ago — and it is making headway.
Accomplishments of this Valley-wide collaborative group, for example, have included new chapters of HOSA (future health professionals) similar to the FBLA and FFA chapters in area schools, a new dental assistant program at Trinidad State Junior College, job shadowing, job fairs, scholarships and an online database that helps future healthcare employees understand what positions might be available and what the requirements are for those jobs.
The partnership is especially working to develop a workforce from within the Valley by encouraging young people to consider healthcare career options and begin learning about them before college.
The healthcare partnership began in 2015. At the time, the Valley was the only part of the state that did not have sector partnerships. A group of local leaders attended training in Denver and subsequently began implementing the sector partnership concept in the Valley.
The partnership involves both private sector industry partners such as healthcare agencies as well as support agencies such as K-12 and higher education representatives, the workforce center, economic development groups and the City of Alamosa.
Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks and Public Relations/Project Specialist Jolene Webb have spearheaded efforts to keep the partnership moving forward along with San Luis Valley Health Director of Human Resources Mandy Crockett.
“Right now our primary focus is workforce,” Brooks said.
For example, the partnership’s web site provides a database of healthcare careers in the San Luis Valley with the pay and requirements listed for them. These range from physical therapists requiring specialized training and a state license to an admitting clerk requiring an associates degree.
This database is helpful for school counselors who can help students know more about the potential medical career fields they are interested in. Students can access this site as well as those who might be thinking of changing careers.
Crockett said most people think of doctors and nurses when they think of careers in the medical field, but jobs in the medical profession can also include human resources professionals, technical, business office, maintenance jobs and many others.
Crockett said it can often be difficult to attract health professionals to the San Luis Valley because they do not even know where the Valley is. When they think of Colorado mountain communities, they think of places like Vail or Durango, she said. When they come to the Valley, they might not stay, she added.
She said loan forgiveness programs should be expanded for those willing to work in underserved areas like the Valley.
In addition, although the Valley educational institutions have many great degree programs in healthcare-related fields, there are still degrees that must be obtained elsewhere, Crockett added, which means young people may leave the Valley to obtain those degrees and then get jobs elsewhere.
Many of these are critical healthcare positions, which are hard to fill locally.
These are the types of challenges the healthcare sector partnership is tackling.
“We spent a lot of time on the critical positions, where we were missing the mark, and if there was anything we could do differently locally to increase filling these positions. We have had success,” Crockett said.
For example, Trinidad State Junior College created a dental assistant program. Both TSJC and Adams State University are working with the partnership to help fill the gaps.
In addition, healthcare organizations are working with existing programs like the nursing programs to engage students. SLV Health implemented an internship program that is reaching into the high school level as well as college level to get youth on site in the healthcare fields. The more experience students can get in the Valley, the more likely they are to remain here, Crockett said.
“That way they are already ready to fill permanent positions when they graduate,” she said. “SLV Health has had success with internships.”
The partnership is also encouraging apprenticeships within the healthcare sector, similar to apprenticeships that are already occurring in other fields like the manufacturing industry.
Another accomplishment of the partnership is the creation of a scholarship program for high school students throughout the Valley who will be going into a healthcare degree program at TSJC or ASU. The partnership has awarded three scholarships so far, for $2,000 each, with the first recipients being from Sanford and La Jara.
Centauri and Alamosa High Schools also host HOSA (future healthcare professionals) chapters.
The workforce center is a crucial partner. For example, Workforce staff Stephanie Goldbranson and Barbara Pacheco are very involved with the partnership.
“That’s the whole point of this partnership, bringing people together and having conversations and sharing resources,” Crockett said.
The workforce center offers many services that can assist both employers and potential employees, and they can connect with each other through the partnership.
Brooks said she has appreciated what the partners have invested into this effort and what they have been willing to change to benefit the whole healthcare sector, which includes behavioral health, public health, dental, long-term care and many other health-related fields. She added she has appreciated the support and involvement of ASU and TSJC as well as the K-12 and BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services).
“It’s amazing to see what’s happening,” she said.
Participating in the Region 8 Healthcare Sector Partnership are: Adams State University, Alamosa County economic Development Corporation, Alamosa High School HOSA, Alamosa Public Health, Centauri High School HOSA, City of Alamosa, Colorado Development Workforce Council, Colorado Workforce Center, Rio Grande Hospital & Clinics, San Luis Valley Area Health Education Center, SLV Behavioral Health, SLV BOCES, SLV Health, Trinidad State Junior College, Upper Rio Grande Economic Development and Valley-Wide Health Systems Inc.
Brooks and Crockett said this list is not exclusive.
“It’s ongoing, and there’s so much we want to accomplish,” Brooks said.
They invited anyone interested in participating to contact the partnership’s convener Jolene Webb at 587-2024 to find out when the next meeting will be. The group generally meets monthly.
Also find out more information at the group’s web site, https://region8healthcarepartnership.blogspot.com