Many have heard by now that there aren’t enough people trained to work in the nation’s rapidly growing health care sector.
Those vacancies are even more pronounced in upstate New York, where thousands of registered nurses and hundreds of lab technicians and paramedics will be needed by 2020.
But the state’s community colleges, hospitals and pharmacies have a plan to combat future shortages, and on Wednesday, they received the full support of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer to implement it. New York’s senior senator is pushing to secure a $23 million federal grant that would help 29 SUNY community colleges across the state train and license more than 6,000 upstate New Yorkers for vacancies in the health care field.
The State University of New York system just submitted an application to the U.S. Department of Labor requesting funds from a pot of $474.5 million available through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Program — a program Schumer used last fall to help secure funding for a similar initiative targeting advanced manufacturing vacancies.
The program gives preference to adults who have lost their job due to trade-related circumstances like departmental outsourcing. SUNY and Schumer are also seeking to give preference to unemployed veterans.
The Capital Region has more than 1,200 dislocated workers eligible for TAA and more than 3,000 unemployed veterans.
Several Capital Region community colleges are participating in the SUNY consortium applying for the grant, including Schenectady County, Fulton-Montgomery and Hudson Valley community colleges.
If and when grant money becomes available, a college would team up with a hospital and/or pharmacy to create a worker training and education program. Many colleges already have such programs in place, designed to help ready students for the needs of their local workforce.
The consortium has already come up with a name and strategy for the plan, known as SUNY Healthcare Education & Leadership Plan for Success. While all students would be eligible to participate in SUNY HELPS, it would prioritize dislocated workers, veterans from the Gulf War era up to the present day and other adults for careers in nursing, emergency medical services and health care information and technology.
SUNY HELPS would focus on four concentrations: the nursing career track, including training to become a home health aide, certified nursing assistant, licensed practical nurse or registered nurse; the health care information career track; the emergency medical services career track, which includes training to become an EMT or paramedic; and the healthcare technologist, technician and office assistant career track.
Schenectady County Community College already has a similar program through the Health Profession Opportunity Grants program, which helps low-income students prepare for careers in health care with free training, employment assistance and amenities like free child care and transportation. Students are trained at its two labs, one in Schenectady and one at 175 Central Ave. in Albany, that replicate long-term care facilities with hospital beds and mannequins.
Under the SUNY HELPS framework, SCCC and other community colleges around the state would do one of three things: expand an existing program so that more students could enroll, reduce the time it takes for students to earn a certificate and/or degree or design an entirely new program that addresses the shortage of health care workers in the state.
SCCC spokesman Darren Johnson said that although the college has the medical training infrastructure already in place, it wouldn’t select a local hospital to partner with until funding is approved.
Fulton-Montgomery Community College, located outside of Johnstown, would use the grant money to continue a highly successful health care training program that ran out of funding just last month. The three-year program — paid for by the U.S. Department of Labor with stimulus funds — allowed FMCC, in partnership with St. Mary’s Health Care in nearby Amsterdam, to train unemployed and part-time workers for various health care positions.
In total, 765 people went through the program, with 527 of them trained as home health aides, certified nursing assistants and registered nurses. Of those, 343 went on to become employed in the health care industry for an 80 percent retention rate after six months.
“That’s a very high retention rate for this area and for these jobs,” said Jean Karutis, director of grants and grant-funded programs at FMCC. “The new opportunity that Sen. Schumer is backing would let us continue that success because we continue to hear from health care agencies that there is a continuing need in our area for these types of jobs. And we anticipate that when the Affordable Care Act is implemented, that need will only become greater.”
Karutis said it would especially benefit rural Fulton and Montgomery counties, which have some of the state’s highest unemployment rates.
“We hope that this comes through,” she said.