Diagnosing Our Future: Yavapai College Health Summit envisions the next generation of care in Yavapai County

Growing rural communities versus overwhelmed rural Health Care systems. The expansion of medical education versus the escalating needs of an aging population. The vast potential of new technologies, new personnel and delivery innovations set against the constraints of logistics, bureaucracy and time. These were the issues studied by community, medical and education leaders last Friday, as they pondered the future of local health care at the Yavapai College Health Summit.

“What’s happening today – in conversations like this one – is that we realize change is coming. It’s going to continue to be our way of life.” Summit Facilitator Dr. Danika Tynes, Ph.D. The Director of Study Process & Operations at Evidation Health, Dr. Tynes explained that pandemics, shifting demographics and even climate change will impact health care delivery. “What we’re asking people to do is get more agile and work together. The one thing we’re going to have to get really good at in health care is change.”

Presented by YC’s Regional Economic Development Center, the Yavapai College Health Summit gathered more than 35 health care educators, providers, administrators and community leaders at the Cliff Castle Casino Conference Center to discuss the current state of Yavapai County’s medical infrastructure and the challenges it will face in the years to come.

From the events opening remarks to the ensuing expert panel, concerns centered around one recurring theme: Staffing. How will Yavapai County, with a senior-heavy population of 236,000 citizens and a labor force half that size (108,000), continue to fill the essential physician, nursing and caregiver positions as that population ages?

“It’s a generational workforce issue,” said Richard Hernandez, Executive Director for YC’s Regional Economic Development Center. Hernandez noted an ongoing ‘brain drain’ of trained and potential health care workers to Maricopa County and jobs out-of-state. “We have to look at how we retain our own [health care] workers, attract others to come here, and develop a collaborative effort to keep them in the field.”

Adequate staffing is a huge issue that must be addressed on multiple fronts. YC’s Director for Institutional Effectiveness, Tom Hughes, noted that, among the ten fastest-growing health care practitioner and support professions, Yavapai College is already offering degree and training programs in three: Registered Nursing; Medical Assistants and Nursing Assistants. A fourth program, Home Health Aide training, will also be available soon.

Dr. Marylou Mercado, YC’s Nursing Program Director, stressed that community colleges play a vital role in keeping health care accessible. “That was always my goal, to get the non-traditional learner into my classroom, help them skill-build, be successful, finish their programs and get them in the community to serve patients. My goal today is to help our hospitals, our clinical agencies and facilities recruit the healthcare workers they need and also to partner with Allied Health and get out the nursing assistants, medical assistants and other workers to support patient care.”

While increased training, recruitment and retention of health care workers dominated the conversation, participants also urged the assembly to consider mitigating issues like a lack of affordable housing and child care for the emerging workforce. “I think all of these things are interrelated,” Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter said. “The key is going to be, how are you going to connect the needs of our county and our students?”

In Summit break-out sessions, participants brainstormed short- and long-term ideas that could collectively bridge an emerging health care worker gap and create leaders. “We need to create compassionate leaders and keep them at the bedside,” Mercado said.

Compassion and empathy were watchwords during the Summit, with participants like Jerome Mayor and former Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Jack Dillenberg cautioning that expanding services should never diminish quality of care.

“Health care is moving from a procedure-based to a value-based health care system,” he said. “Patients are going to want to know that you care about them and their families. I thought today was outstanding and really presented some great opportunities for Yavapai College to enrich its health care education environment.”

The sessions produced a wide range of pragmatic and innovative possibilities – including dedicated and subsidized housing and child care for health care professionals working locally; linking health care scholarship opportunities with multi-year commitments to serve in the community; streamlining course offerings and apprenticeships to put more support workers in the field; and an expanded deployment of tele-health resources to give local providers better reach into remote areas.

The next step, Dr. Tynes said, will be making these ideas real. “There’s nothing that angers me more than a good idea that goes nowhere. We will walk away with these ideas, and ‘project-ize’ each one. Make recommendations that are actionable, know what the next steps are, and drive them to fruition.”

Yavapai College operates six campuses and centers throughout Yavapai County and offers over 100 degrees and certificates, student and community services, and cultural events and activities. To learn more about YC, visit www.yc.edu.

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