Healthcare Workforce Summit


“I paddled from my dock on the Millicoma River upstream, past the old closed down tavern to the grove of majestic black lotus trees. It is my favorite spot along this section of the river where I’ve drifted under their drooping June bouquets of blossoms with my, then, toddler sons, the air full of fragrance or come upon the rustling wind’s ticker parade of spent golden leaves fluttering across the valley to blanket the river. Today, though, I am alone daydreaming.  Thank you Healthcare Workforce Summit coordinator Skaidra Scholey and Southwestern Oregon Workforce Investment Board for an excellent program kicked off by a keynote address reminding us that, “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.” – Albert Einstein – And thank you Angela Espersen, Associate Creative Director of Fiction Strategy and Design Studio for reaffirming my practice of the daily daydream which, for me, typically occurs on a trail run, paddle, bike ride, back pack or surf. What a wonderful place we live in where we have access to such preciously beautiful opportunities to day dream in this way. 

Today I’m daydreaming about what my other take home messages from the event were and how they reflect and connect with similar forums I’ve attended in our region on housing, economy, education, resiliency, business and natural resource management. 

The common message is Adapt or Die. Our technology, environment, economy and societies are changing faster than ever recorded. We cannot continue to operate under the old playbook – we have got to radically rethink our systems.

Thankfully, the other common denominator of these gatherings is a room full of Informed, Engaged and Connected individuals and organizations quite capable of the task of Adapting – provided we all work together.  Since I know that we are people of the frontier, familiar with the notion that No One is Coming to Save Us so we better take care of ourselves,  I remain optimistic.

To paraphrase Annette Shelton-Tiderman – our Regional Economist from Oregon Employment Department, in order to support a healthy regional economy we have got to attract and retain working families. As Asst. Dean for Rural Medical Education, OHSU School of Medicine Dr. Paul Gorman observed – financial incentives are not enough. Working families want successful schools for their children, a diverse economy for fulfilling employment, clean air and water, positive community engagement, affordable housing and integrated community health resources. Once we figure that out the drop dead natural beauty of the place will take care of the rest.

Since I’m an experienced daydreamer I wonder, “What percentage of our international military budget would it take to redeploy our military personnel and government contracts to achieving those goals?”  I’ll table that musing, for the time being.

Since I’m a realist I wonder, “What are the next, most efficient, steps we can take given our existing resources?”

Specifically in the healthcare workforce realm (constituting 19% of the three county’s combined payroll with a projected 5,000 job openings in the next 10 years) this is what I’m hearing:

·         Grow our own: 

o   Focus our Investment “upstream” to our children’s mental health, educational excellence and direct career pathway opportunities. Healthy, capable and responsible citizens (potential employees) are good for business, rely less on social support systems and contribute to the local economy.  I have heard that $1 spent on Head-Start alleviates $27 spent on other social services down the road.  I’d like to hear more.

o   Foster private investment from the business community directly into the education of local residents more likely to stay where their roots are.  Considering the expense of attracting, training and unsuccessfully retaining transplants or hiring costly travelers (transient workforce – 80% of whom do not live in Oregon so do not contribute to our tax revenues), this may present a nice Return On Investment for our local employers.

·         Attract and retain: 

o   Prioritize the things that working families value (and everyone benefits from):

§  Successful childcare and schools for our children

§  Diverse economic opportunities for spouses and adult children 

§  Conserve our publicly accessible Rugged Beauty (both of these items reaffirm my vision of natural resources managed for indefinite enjoyment, harvest and ecosystem health)

§  Readily accessible healthcare

§  Affordable housing

·         Support our public educational institutions in sustainably expanding programs to connect willing and able applicants with quality, marketable certifications.  

o   Both Jason Aase – Dean of CTE at Umpqua Community College and Francisco Saldivar – Dean of Instruction at Southwestern Oregon Community College reported that their respective nursing programs run at a deficit.  This is a sure sign of a broken system.  Let’s put our heads together and pencil this out.  More rural nursing graduates = more accessible health care = reduced turn over/overhead = more grow your own + attract and retain = higher local and state tax revenues.  Hmmmm, seems like we need some collaborative stepping up to the plate on this one for mutual benefit to the private and public sectors, no?

o   As pointed out by Mike Westby, of Westby Associates, the institutional development required will need both short term investments (public/private philanthropic or transactional gain driven) and long term investments (legislative fixes aligning our public institutions with the economic realities of today)

I was unable to attend the second half of this timely summit (to participate in the Early Design Meeting for Eastside Elementary and Millicoma Middle Schools for the Coos Bay School District) so, regretfully, my take home musings ended there.  Always curious to hear what other’s take on the situation is……