BEMIDJI — Career paths in health care will soon be more accessible for students in the community as Sanford Health, Bemidji State University, Northwest Technical College and Bemidji High School partner together for the Sanford CARES — Collaborative Alliance for Regional Healthcare Educational Services — initiative.

“While we are blessed to provide much-needed health care throughout our community, we are facing an elderly population that will double between 2010 and 2030 creating a growing need for health professionals to care for them,” said President of Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota, Bryan Nermoe. “Sanford Health, Bemidji State University, Northwest Technical College and Bemidji High School are taking steps together to address this need.”

The four organizations are working together through a public-private partnership to create a new initiative called Sanford CARES. As part of the program, Sanford Health is committing $1 million over the next five years to ensure that the Bemidji area’s need for additional skilled health care staff is met.

A 2017 regional survey by the Department of Employment and Economic Justice found that employers reported nearly 1,500 open positions in Beltrami County alone, with six of the top 40 positions in demand being in the healthcare industry. Sanford Bemidji on average has over 120 open positions at any given time.

The Sanford CARES initiative will address these concerns by enhancing the opportunities for students to engage as health care professionals at all levels from high school to college to the workforce. Expanding the culture of caring, the program will also focus on the patient experience, health care service and delivery as well as employee retention. After these two tiers of the initiative are applied over the next five years, the program will identify and build new programming to adapt to the community’s needs.

Starting at the high school level, Sanford is sponsoring Bemidji High School’s Healthcare Explorers Chapter starting in school year 2019-2020, an extracurricular activity for students age 14-20 who are interested in health care careers. This will involve biweekly meetings on the Sanford campus including tours, hands-on experiences, speakers, simulations and other activities to increase direct observation of various jobs and departments in hospital, clinic and senior living facilities.

Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, Sanford is funding a Bemidji High School career academy position to assist students in the health care academy. To aid in learning, they will provide Sanford staff assistance for student instruction. Sanford will also continue to offer 10-week volunteering opportunities over the summers to all Bemidji High School health care academy students. These students who also participate in CNA certification spending half of their time or more at Sanford will receive free logoed scrubs.

In collaboration with Bemidji High School, which will offer related curriculum, Sanford is providing the high school with simulation mannequins and equipment for students to practice with and gain first-hand training experience in the classroom as well as train BHS instructors on how to use the mannequins.

Carrying this level of commitment from high school to higher education, Sanford is partnering with Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College to expand their current health care programming. The schools will aim to recruit, enroll and graduate more students to meet the area workforce demands, as well as work alongside Bemidji High School to align curricula to support job opportunities and ensure consistency in coursework across institutions.

“Access to exceptional health care is a crucial asset for a growing regional center such as Bemidji,” BSU/NTC President Faith C. Hensrud said. “Both BSU and NTC are excited to expand our already close relationship with Sanford Health and The Bemidji Career Academy as we work together to encourage students to pursue health-related careers, and to select Northwest Technical College or Bemidji State to complete their education. The Sanford CARES program will help us continue to pursue our shared vision of a Bemidji region that is supported by an outstanding and highly skilled health care workforce.”

Working toward this goal, Sanford is sponsoring healthcare exploration camp opportunities hosted by Bemidji State University for student participants from Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard and Koochiching counties who are interested in pursuing a career in the medical field. During these camps, Sanford is also providing access to facilities, speakers, simulation labs and an overview of health care jobs and departments.

Sanford Bemidji currently offers $250,000 annually in scholarships, tuition reimbursement and internships for CNAs, LPNs, RNs and other health care positions. They hire over 100 graduates each year from BSU and NTC’s RN, LPN and CNA programs.

In collaboration with Northwest Technical College’s LPN program, Sanford is providing an additional $72,000 in forgivable loan scholarships to new LPN students who will commit to work for Sanford Health as LPNs for 24 months post-graduation/licensure. In addition, Sanford is providing tuition for nine CNA training sessions this year and similar training session schedules for the four years following.

“I have been blessed to work in the healthcare field for the past 20 years and have witnessed firsthand the capability for improving a community’s future when residents, public institutions and private organizations work together,” said President Nermoe. “Through a collaboration between all four institutions, the Sanford CARES initiative will address the healthcare shortage with a strategic plan to recruit, retain and support students’ career goals and produce the next generation of healthcare professionals for northern Minnesota.”


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