About 1,000 people in the Portland metro area are in training for health care jobs with the help of two federal grants.
Worksystems, a nonprofit that provides workforce development to residents in Portland and Multnomah and Washington counties, is using two grants totaling $18 million to develop a more diverse health care workforce in the region. The grants run until 2020.
The goal is to get 1,800 people from low-income and/or under-represented communities trained in jobs in nursing, medical equipment and offices, allied health, mental and dental health. So far, 43 percent identify as members of communities of color.
“There’s a ton of jobs in health care in the region, and it’s one industry that’s largely recession proof, and the projections keep growing,” said Nick Knudsen, business services manager for Worksystems.
Jobs may be plentiful, but as Worksystems began reaching out to health care employers, the nonprofit kept hearing a recurring theme — the challenge of creating a workforce that reflects the makeup of the community, Knudsen said.
“Yes, they need people to enter health care occupations, but even more pressing is having people who were under-represented in the current health care workforce enter into health care, the patient-facing occupations,” he said.
Research shows better outcomes for populations of color when they walk into a hospital or clinic where the staff look more like them and reflect their culture, Knudsen said.
“We really homed in on that particular angle in working with the industry and trying to find ways to help them spread the word in communities of color about opportunities,” he said.
The organization is working with community partners, including culturally specific organizations, on recruitment. It is also offering “incumbent worker training” for employees who are currently in jobs at major area hospitals that are not health care-related, such as dining services. These workers are trained in health jobs, such as certified nursing assistants or patient access specialists. Eighty workers are currently going through certification programs, so they can “get to that next rung on the ladder,” Knudsen said.
The larger of the two federal grants was awarded in 2015: the $12 million Health Professions Opportunity Grant from the Administration of Children and Families, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The grant, known locally as Health Careers Northwest, was targeted at preparing low income people to advance through seven health career ladders.
Then in 2016, the Department of Labor awarded a $6 million America’s Promise grant to support under-represented populations who want to move up the career ladder, with a goal of serving 800-plus local community members of color, immigrants, refugees and people with disabilities. They may have started as home health aids and want to pursue higher levels of nursing.
Some grant funding has gone to tuition but a lot has gone to support community organizations that provide one-on-one assistance to populations that need additional support to enter health care professions, which generally require prerequisites, said Stacey Triplett, Worksystems’ community programs manager. The grants have also been leveraged to help participants with child care and housing support.
Since one of the barriers to expanding the number of nurses in the region is the limited capacity of regional training programs, Worksystems is using the HHS grant to create a new nursing program of sorts. Called Immigrant Nurse Credentialing, or INC, the innovative program allows immigrants who were credentialed in their home countries achieve the same professional status in the U.S.
“The idea is to help transition foreign-trained nurses to U.S. practice,” Knudsen said. The first cohort of 16 is going through the instructional portion of the program and will soon take their exams. The U.S. certification will translate into a huge salary jump for most of them.
Since the beginning of the grants, participants’ wages have increased by 13 percent, Triplett said.
HealthcareersNW partners are: Central City Concern, Human Solutions, Community Action Organization, IRCO, TANF JoBs program, SE Works, Washington County Department of Housing Services and Mt. Hood Community College/WorkSource Portland Metro.