The Singing River Health Care Workforce Academy enables participants to work while advancing their careers

Working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for staff at Singing River’s health care system — a challenge only made more difficult by staffing issues.

Singing River hopes to directly address the statewide shortage of healthcare workers through its new apprenticeship programs.

The Singing River Health Care Workforce Academy is a community-based program on the Gulf Coast that aims to create more opportunities for people to become skilled healthcare professionals.

The academy offers apprenticeships, such as a surgical technology internship and a certified nurse assistant internship, to create opportunities for people to continue working while learning and accelerating their careers.

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College is working with Singing River on the licensed practical nurse (LPN) apprenticeship program, which 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 generate more career opportunities for Mississippians interested in working in the medical field.

“We are investing heavily in training (people) and filling those gaps. The critical thing is to make sure we develop and build pipelines because we’re going to continue to have personnel crises,” she said. “We have to go there to teach and train our own.”

The Singing River Health System will create more than 220 jobs while training more than 1,000 students through the program, according to the hospital.

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

Singing River will provide immediate employment to qualified graduates in high-demand essential specialties such as certified practical nurses, surgical technicians and licensed practical nurses.

Kellie Powell, a 33-year-old mother of three from Texas, worked at Singing River as a medical assistant for nine months. She will graduate from the LPN program in September 2023.

Prior to joining Singing River, she lived in New Orleans and worked for Ochsner Health System. After being displaced by Hurricane Ida, she describes her arrival in Mississippi as “a blessing in disguise.”

“The father of my children and I packed for three or four days to evacuate and found we couldn’t get home after the storm,” she said.

She went to Gautier with her family. His employers in Ochsner told him to find a branch in the Gulf Coast area and start working.

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

She hopes completing the program will help her pay off her student loan debt since she attended college.

“This program is the golden ticket. When I graduate, I won’t have any more debt.

Upon graduation, she will sign a contract agreeing 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 of this facility near Ocean Springs Hospital will begin soon and is being funded by a $7 million grant from the state, Lewis said. Topics covered in the community health education center will include smoking cessation, first aid, parenting, breastfeeding and childbirth.

The focus will also be on mental health, Lewis said. All of these programs will also be offered virtually through their Digital Medicine Program, a program created by Ochsner Hospital System, which allows individuals to manage their high blood pressure and insulin for type 2 diabetes from their phone and offers clinic visits. telehealth.

Eric Shelton contributed to this report.

— Article credit to Allison Santa-Cruz of Mississippi Today —

Michael A. Bynum