Wise County, Norton City schools secure Claude Moore Charitable Foundation grant, work with Ballad Health to jump-start healthcare careers
A five-year grant will enable students in Southwest Virginia to pursue healthcare careers, thereby strengthening access to quality care throughout the Appalachian Highlands.
Through a grant from the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation, educational institutions in Wise County – including city and county middle schools, high schools and higher education institutions – are working to grow the regional pipeline of registered nurses and allied health professionals to help address the regional nursing shortage. The schools will work in tandem with Ballad Health to get students engaged with the health system and its career opportunities and transfer them into registered nursing positions and bachelor of science in nursing programs.
“Ballad Health is committed to working to improve the future of the Appalachian Highlands, and education is a cornerstone of that,” said Dr. Matthew Loos, Ballad Health’s chief academic officer. “Through this grant and the generosity of the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation, we’re opening more doors for local students, introducing them to the full spectrum of healthcare careers, while also helping them achieve career goals and professional satisfaction. This program will also help bolster the availability of qualified healthcare workers in our region, which will bring more nurses into our hospitals and help address the shortages we are now facing.”
The grant will begin by helping students in Wise County middle schools gain exposure to healthcare careers and explore potential educational opportunities. From there, the grant will enable more students to pursue certified nursing assistant (CNA) licenses, and then proceed to nursing and technical certifications. Mountain Empire Community College and the University of Virginia’s College at Wise will work together to accommodate students’ progressions into advanced degrees.
Along the way, students can work in roles of increasing responsibility with professional oversight at Ballad Health facilities, which offer flexible schedules for students.
“Mountain Empire Community College has enjoyed a long history of providing our region’s healthcare providers with skilled and compassionate nurses and other healthcare professionals,” said Dr. Kim Dorton, dean of health sciences at Mountain Empire Community College.
“Our work with partners through the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation Grant will enable us to continue and expand that work. We look forward to broadening our efforts to provide healthcare career information and training to interested students in the MECC service region.”
Securing the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation grant began more than a year ago, when educational leaders in Wise County began preliminary conversations with the foundation. To build a cohesive infrastructure, the institutions asked Ballad Health to help streamline the grant application and serve as a backbone institution for future employment and clinical faculty support.
While the shortage of nurses has hit rural areas, such as the Appalachian Highlands, particularly hard, it has been a growing national issue that started before the pandemic.
Since 2016, the average American hospital has turned over approximately 90% of its workforce and 83% of its nursing staff, according to the 2021 NSI National Health Care Retention and RN Staffing Report.
As of January 2022, Ballad Health had approximately 600 open nursing positions. To help fill many of those needed vacancies, the health system has been forced to hire travel nurses.
While contract labor has been an interim solution for the health system, Ballad Health Chief Nursing Executive Lisa Smithgall said Ballad Health is investing $100 million into more permanent solutions, such as the Claude Moore Charitable Grant, expanded childcare for team members and pay increases to address the shortage and reduce turnover.
“The dynamics of the nursing profession have changed drastically over the years. To continue to be able to provide high-quality, compassionate care, we must evolve — and working in tandem with educational partners to bring more young people into the profession is a long-term solution that can help us do just that,” Smithgall said.
“We are so glad to take part in this wide-reaching effort to overcome the current shortage in frontline caregivers and develop a robust, farsighted effort ensure access to local care for future generations, while also enhancing educational opportunities for the communities we serve. We are lucky to have the high-quality education and training partners we have in Southwest Virginia”
William Austin, Career Technical Education (CTE) director and principal of the Wise County Career Technical Center, said the grant will give the school system the ability to employ a teacher with a medical background to provide career information and successfully guide students through the program.
“This grant is providing students in Wise County and the City of Norton with a tremendous opportunity to establish a career in healthcare,” Austin said.
“This grant will help us better prepare students for the transition to employment in healthcare. Being able to work alongside Ballad Health is essential to this program, and it’s a major part of this collaboration. Because of this partnership, our students will get direct access to healthcare leaders, job shadowing and internship opportunities.”
At the secondary education level, students who wish to pursue a career in the medical field will have the opportunity to take classes and receive their Certified Nursing Assistant licensure through the grant program while enrolled at Wise County Career Technical Center.
“By following this career pathway, students can achieve their employment goals more quickly while receiving the best training possible,” Austin said.
“This partnership of community and educational stakeholders, along with the creation of a career pathway in the field of healthcare, will help make health careers accessible to many more students, including those wishing to work in underserved rural and remote areas.”
At the close of the five-year grant period, Ballad Health and educational leaders hope to create a replicable model for other grant recipients and healthcare programs. Because the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation grant is applicable throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, any successes in Wise County can be duplicated in other parts of the state to address the nationwide shortage of healthcare professionals.
Find more information about open nursing and healthcare careers in the Appalachian Highlands.