Efforts to pursue a medical college in Roseburg are slowly moving forward with a committee that was formed to try to bring the college to the Roseburg area. And this week, board members heard about the dire need for the medical workforce in the county, which is similar to other rural counties in Oregon.
The message from three medical care groups was that there is an increasing need to get nurses and medical assistants to work in rural areas like Roseburg.
K.C. Bolton, CEO of Aviva, formerly Umpqua Community Health Center, told the board having a medical college to educate local talent, would be a big advantage.
Bolton said in 10 years, Aviva has had a turnover of 128 medical assistants and 32 nurses in an organization that has 40 medical assistants and 12 nurses. He said support staff tends to move around within the community which creates a bidding war for individual positions.
“The turnover is devastating and that makes a provider super unhappy,” Bolton said. “I just think (nurses and medical assistants) are a hot commodity, but if you don’t stabilize that support workforce you’re going to have providers continue to leave.”
Bolton told the committee that the college helps medical assistants to get their certification and do some of the clinical work in the clinic at the same time.
“The bottom line is you stabilize the support staff and that means phlebotomists, dietitians, everything that’s part of that continuum of care for that patient,” Bolton said. “Then physicians tend to stay, tend to be happier and happier physicians means happier patients and better outcomes.”
Lisa Yop, the Nurse Manager for the Employee Department at the Roseburg VA Medical Center echoed Bolton’s concerns about turnover. Yop said staffing at the VA is reaching a critical situation. She showed a graphic of the projected retirement for registered nurses at the VA facility with 97 projected to retire but 516 are eligible for retirement.
“Looking forward to 2025, we’re looking at an escalating rate of those that are eligible,” Yop said. “We all know that even if we have the medical college here that we couldn’t pop out enough nurses to replace this is why we joined forces with Mercy to get ahead of this freight train that we see coming because our age group is older.”
Yop said local would be much faster and much easier than trying to attract someone from across the country to come to Roseburg. She said the VA and Mercy will have to work together to supply enough personnel for both facilities.
“Pretty soon we’re all going to have to all be working both places because people are retiring and we don’t have people coming,” Yop said. “Also the demand is growing and that is a big factor too.”
Hallie Clark, Human Resources Analyst said their biggest struggle is getting enough qualified nurses.
“On the top of the list for Mercy, it’s always going to be a nurse, almost a third of our staff here in the hospital are nurses,” Clark said. “They are incredibly difficult to find, especially with experience.”
Clark said the hospital relies heavily on Umpqua Community College and its nursing program but there is a widespread shortage of nurses, and one-third of last year’s UCC nursing graduates went out of the area. She said Mercy could have used every one of those graduates.
Mercy brings in nurses from RN Travelers Agency, a group that places nurses for several weeks in hospitals that are in need of nurses. But the cost is about twice the price of hiring a full-time nurse at the hospital. The hospital spends about $1.9 million each year with the agency.
This year, 31 open positions have been posted at Mercy and only 19 have been filled. Not only are those needed now, but Clark says a lot of the nurses in the hospital are nearing retirement and the need will continue to grow.
The challenge is similar to recruiting licensed clinical social workers. Mercy’s current posting has been open for over 400 days. Medical technologists have taken over 200 days on average to fill the last four positions and about 116 days on average to fill respiratory therapist openings.
Kelley Richardson, Human Resources Business Partner at Mercy said the financial impact of recruiting is staggering between the cost of advertising, recruiters and retention and sign-on bonus programs.
“We really don’t have to convince people that our area is beautiful and a great place to live, it’s just what it has to offer as far as career growth opportunities,” Richardson said.
“The college is something we all need,” Bolton told the committee members. “And I know you all, if you’re sitting there, you believe in it and we need to get the rest of the community behind it.”
The next meeting of the Umpqua Valley Development Board is scheduled for Dec. 9 to talk about academic programs for the proposed medical college.