White House Rural Council’s Health IT Initiative Helps Community Colleges Tailor Programs to Workforce Needs

By John White, Judy Murphy, and Thomas Morris

With a major workforce transition underway in many rural hospitals and health clinics, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hosted a conference call with staff from nearly 80 rural community colleges recently to discuss federal resources available to expand training for health information technology workers.

Putting the I in Health IT LogoDeveloping an adequately trained health IT workforce in rural areas is imperative, and new programs are available to provide incentives for eligible health care providers and hospitals to adopt and meaningfully use electronic health records.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the health IT workforce will increase by 20 percent by the year 2016.  A significant part of that growth will come in rural areas, which are served by approximately 2,000 rural hospitals, 3,700 Rural Health Clinics and approximately 3,000 Community and Migrant Health Centers that are either located in or serve rural communities.

In small rural hospitals and clinics, health IT workers may have multiple roles and responsibilities. Community colleges will be the place where many employers and employees turn for training and re-training to implement and maintain these systems.

Activities and programs at agencies across the Federal government are designed to support and expand workforce training for health IT workers, including:

    • As members of the White House Rural Council, HHS and ED are working together to ensure that rural community colleges are aware of and have access to federal resources to create these high-skilled, in-demand career pathways.
    • In August 2011, President Obama announced a partnership between HHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – another member of the WH Rural Council – to make it easier for rural health care providers to purchase health IT and expand training of rural health IT  workers. HHS has also worked closely with the Departments of Labor and Education to support this initiative.
    • The HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) created a community college consortia to educate health IT professionals, which is a part of ONC’s Health IT Workforce Development Program. The program to date has trained over 13,000 health IT professionals – 10 percent are from rural areas.  All colleges in the consortia are offering distance learning to make the training available to students in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
    • ONC funded five universities to develop a library of health IT training materials.  The materials are designed to be used by instructors to create a curriculum.  Community colleges, supported by ONC grants, have used this material to create curriculum for training students in six workforce roles.  These community colleges are a resource for other colleges interested in starting training programs.
    • Health IT training materials are available on the Department of Labor’s Virtual Career Network. The final version of the curriculum released under the original ONC Health Curriculum Development Centers Program grant is available for anyone to freely download from the National Training & Dissemination Center (NTDC) Web site.

Click here (doc) to review a transcript of the health IT call with rural community colleges.

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education. Judy Murphy, RN, FACMI, FHIMSS, FAAN, is Deputy National Coordinator for Programs and Policy in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and Tom Morris is Associate Administrator for Rural Health Policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

FFA at White House Rural Economic Forum

“I was an FFA member back in the day” … “Some of my greatest memories are as a student in a rural setting” … “We believe in the future of agriculture and in students like you.

Comments like these were common from White House Staff, business leaders and attendees at the White House’s Rural Economic Forum held at Northeast Iowa Community College on August 16. State FFA Officers from Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois joined rural advocates, small business owners, cabinet members, my national FFA officer teammate, Wyatt DeJong, and me in a discussion focusing on rural America.

Riley Pagett and Wyatt DeJong at the White House’s Rural Economic Forum

The day was a success in developing ideas for effective rural communities, recruitment to such areas and other issues involving rural persons and businesses. The day also marked a great step forward for the American education system. People became more aware of the importance of education of people of all ages from all walks of life through breakout sessions. Business and industry leaders, staff, cabinet members and others brainstormed ideas in which we could enhance rural America – educational standards, increased broadband coverage, and opportunities for students to return to production agricultural areas and family farms were topics covered. Thoughts in the breakout sessions were solidified during President Obama’s remarks to the group.

“It’s always a mistake to bet against America. It’s always a mistake to bet against the American worker, the American farmer, the American small business owner, the American People,” President Obama said. As the President wrapped up the rural economic development forum, he said he has confidence in our nation’s economic recovery and is encouraged by what he saw on his trip through rural Iowa and Minnesota.

His comments seemed to motivate attendees and summed up the day. He explained that the future direction of the Rural Council is to support the work done that day and the work of rural people he had encountered during his term.  He thanked “the future farmers” for our commitment to young people, agriculture, education and rural America.

To me, his comments spoke highly of today’s youth and of what we had achieved that day in Iowa – awareness, need for opportunity in rural areas and a sense of community among all.

Riley Pagett
Oklahoma student
2010-11 National FFA President