For CF, community’s health care needs to go beyond nurses

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Posted August 7, 2020 | By Dr. Stephanie Cortes, Guest Columnist

As both a longtime nurse educator and a licensed nurse practitioner, I know firsthand the vital role nurses play in a community’s health and well-being. I also know that nurses are part of an ecosystem of different occupations of health care practitioners, all of whom bring value and serve unique needs to care for the whole human health experience.

As dean for health sciences at College of Central Florida, I have heard loud and clear from our community workforce partners about the critical need for new programs in cardiovascular technology, dental hygiene and respiratory therapy and for expanding our surgical technology, Associate Degree Nursing and RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs. The plans for the college’s Health Science Technology Education Building reflect these needs of our local workforce partners and our community’s residents.

The need for cardiovascular technologists is just one of the areas worth learning more about. Cardiovascular technologists (CVTs) work in a clinical setting assisting the physician in performing procedures to diagnose and care for cardiovascular-related illnesses. We know from our health partners locally that staffing is an ongoing challenge that often requires hiring travel CVTs from national staffing agencies to help fill the local need.

Michelle Hodge, cardiovascular service line administrator for Ocala Health, says: “We are committed to helping CF develop a CVT program because we recognize the value that a local program would provide our patients and this community daily.”

The local job growth projection for the next eight years for CVTs is 14 percent and there are currently 90 openings in the area.

The need for respiratory therapists has taken on a new urgency in the wake of COVID-19. A recent article in U.S. News and World Report projected that in a worst-case scenario, the 130,000 respiratory therapists currently practicing in the United States will not meet the needs of COVID-19 patients and called the shortage of licensed respiratory therapists “a crisis.” This is compounded by the fact that educators and researchers in the field are actually shifting more of their time to clinical duties to help fill the need. There are currently 89 openings for respiratory therapists locally and this is projected to rise by 19 percent in the next eight years. That growth was documented before the COVID-19 outbreak.         

We are also well aware of our state’s distinctive age structure, with 19.4 percent of our residents age 65 or older – the highest proportion in this age group in the nation. According to the Eldercare Workforce Alliance, the combination of an aging Baby Boom population, an increase in life expectancy, and decrease in the relative number of younger persons is contributing to a growing older population. CF is working to accommodate the increasing demand for health care professionals to serve this group and all of our community members.

By providing the new health science programs and expanding current programs we will prepare hundreds of local residents for high-skill, high-wage jobs in the next few years and cultivate a holistic care approach to human health and wellness. To reach this goal we will need continued support from the community, an aligned pipeline of health science education from high school through college, and an alliance of health care institutions working as one.

This community deserves the Health Science Technology Education Building and the College of Central Florida is committed to its fruition.

Dr. Stephanie Cortes is dean of health sciences at the College of Central Florida.

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