Home Career Health care: a new program aims to eliminate the shortage of workers

Health care: a new program aims to eliminate the shortage of workers

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Working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for Singing River Health System employees — a challenge only compounded by staffing issues.

Singing River hopes to address the statewide health worker shortage directly through new training programs.

Singing River Health Academy is a community-based program on the Gulf Coast that aims to create more opportunities for individuals to become qualified health professionals.

The academy offers apprenticeships, such as surgical technology internships and certified nursing assistant internships, to create opportunities for people to continue working while they learn and accelerate their careers.

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College is partnering with Singing River on a licensed practical nurse (LPN) training program that hospital officials say is the first of its kind in the state. Jessica Lewis, the hospital’s director of human resources, hopes other hospitals will soon adopt the apprenticeship model to create more career opportunities for Mississippians interested in working in the medical field.

“We’re making a huge investment in really training (people) and filling those gaps. “It’s critical to make sure we design and build pipelines because we’re going to continue to have staffing crises,” she said. “We must teach and train our own.”

According to the hospital, Singing River Health System will create more than 220 jobs while educating more than 1,000 students as a result of the program.

Students can begin studying at the academy as early as high school so young people can learn about the medical field and make informed decisions about their careers. Singing River has partnered with Jackson County and Harrison County high schools to engage 11th and 12th graders in pre-internship programs and plans to expand to Hancock County schools.

Singing River offers immediate employment to qualified graduates in highly sought after specialties such as Certified Nursing Assistants, Surgical Technicians and Licensed Practical Nurses.

Kelly Powell, a 33-year-old mother of three from Texas, has been working as a paramedic at Singing River for nine months. She will graduate from the LPN program in September 2023.

Before coming to Singing River, she lived in New Orleans and worked at Ochsner Health System. After being displaced by Hurricane Ida, she describes arriving in Mississippi as a “preserved blessing.”

“My children’s father and I were packing for three or four days to evacuate and found we couldn’t go home after the storm,” she said.

She went to Gauthier with her family. Her employers at Ochsner told her to find a branch in the Gulf Coast area and start working.

“I found Singing River in Pascagoula and they hired me on the spot … I didn’t have any interview clothes or a car.”

She hopes that completing the program will help her pay off her student loan debt while she was in college.

“This program is a golden ticket. When I graduate, I will be debt free.’

After graduation, she will sign a contract to work at Singing River for at least two years after completing the program.

The hospital plans to build a new facility to house this program, which is currently operating in a temporary location, in addition to a community health education center.

Construction on that facility near Ocean Springs Hospital will begin soon and is being paid for by a $7 million state grant, Lewis said. Topics covered at the community health education center will include smoking cessation, first aid, parenting, breastfeeding and childbirth.

There will also be an emphasis on mental health, Lewis said. All of these programs will also be offered virtually through their Digital Medicine program, an app developed by Ochsner Hospital System that allows people to manage their high blood pressure and insulin for type 2 diabetes from your phone, and provides televsions.

Eric Shelton contributed to this report.

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