North Carolina Community Colleges Key to Access to Health Care

University enrollment in the United States has been declining steadily since 2010. This is not just a lost opportunity for anyone who might take advantage of the career opportunities and rewarding experiences that a post-secondary degree can bring. The trend is also a significant health problem that can affect virtually anyone.

Access to quality health care is important for good health, and it is no secret that health workforce shortages make it increasingly difficult for people to receive the right ones. care they need. In North Carolina alone, the Department of Health and Human Services has identified 90 of our state’s 100 counties as Areas of shortage of health professionals for primary care. It’s not just a local problem, it’s a national, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made matters worse. To state the obvious, education is the vital pipeline that feeds talent into the health care system. The continuing decline in college enrollment threatens the health care system’s ability to serve everyone.

On the positive side, our state’s community colleges are responding nimbly to the call. This year and into 2022, the leaders of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) embarked on what we call our “Extra Miles Tour”. We meet leaders and innovators from every county who go the extra mile to make North Carolina communities healthier and more prosperous. Through these conversations, it became clear how community colleges foster productive collaborations between educators, health care providers and community organizations.

These local partnerships help communities in different regions, each with unique challenges, attract aspiring students into the classroom and prepare them to meet urgent health care needs.

Make higher education more accessible

North Carolina has long understood the value of public higher education as a gateway to individual prosperity, innovation, and economic growth. Our public universities are world famous, with good reason.

Our vast community college network is equally essential to the economic and community health of North Carolina. Following a global pandemic that disproportionately affected the lives and livelihoods of communities of color and rural communities, the Urban Institute and others have focused on community colleges as engines of economic equity: “Community colleges are an integral part of local economies because they lie at the intersection of workforce development and development. Higher Education. And recent evidence shows them becoming engines of workforce growth.

In North Carolina, they are the backbone of our communities. Advanced manufacturing training programs at Robeson Community College and Lenoir Community College illustrate how these institutions prepare students for the jobs of the 2030s instead of the 2010s.

Executives in the healthcare industry should explore the value of community college in slightly different terms. These institutions do not just kick-start local economies – as engines of health care labor force growth, they improve access to healthcare. Community colleges bring education closer to home and offer courses considerably more affordable than most four-year universities. By making educational opportunities more accessible to all aspiring students, community colleges are essential in any effort to build provider capacity.

Equally important, the innovations taking place at North Carolina community colleges show how institutions can innovate and adapt to serve students who might otherwise face significant barriers to higher education.

Blue Ridge Community College in Henderson County is located in the western part of the state. There, a unique partnership brings together three entities that operate from a single building. Standing on three floors, the Health Sciences Center provides both services and training to meet the health care demands of the region. The third floor is the physical site of Blue Ridge Community College’s Allied Health Programs. While students take classes in state-of-the-art learning facilities, patients receive treatment at the Pardee UNC Health Cancer and Surgery Center on the lower level. The same building is also home to two Wingate University graduate programs: Medical Assistant Studies and Pharmacy. By bringing together various entities, the center allows students to take courses, observe medical practice and gain practical experience, all in one space.

More than that, the agreements with the local school district channel promising students into this vital workforce. Beginning in high school, students can begin taking health professions courses in college, making it easier to formally transition to one of the 15 programs offered by Blue Ridge Community College after graduation from secondary studies. After completing a two-year program, students can continue their education in one of Wingate’s graduate programs.

The result is a complete educational journey that does not force students to leave their community. The simplicity of this experience is key to attracting and retaining aspiring students, especially those who are juggling family, work, and school responsibilities, or who might not have access to reliable transportation.

Keep talent close to home

The innovative approach to teaching and community partnerships taking place at Blue Ridge Community College is not an isolated case. It takes place in the state-of-the-art simulation lab at College of the Albemarle, located in a redeveloped building where the dean of the university once lived, but where nursing, paramedical and first responder students now hone their skills on mannequins. high technology.

Equally exciting work is taking place at colleges and universities across the state.

For North Carolinians in rural areas where the health workforce is limited, this localized approach to higher education is important: a recent study found that most students who attend community college stay within 300 miles of the city where they studied. Over 60% will live and work within 80 kilometers of their alma mater. Community colleges help ensure that the talent that has developed in North Carolina stays in North Carolina.

This is why Blue Cross NC has invested $ 1 million in the North Carolina Community College System to help fund associate degree programs in emergency medical science at five community colleges, and why we invest and fund scholarships for insurance license programs at community colleges to help build strength insurance sales as diverse as our state.

Meeting the country’s healthcare needs requires creative solutions at all levels and in every community. In North Carolina, community colleges play a vital role in spurring local innovation statewide. In the long term, this work will make our health care system more accessible and more equitable for all.

John lumpkin

John Lumpkin is the president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation.

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