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Creating a workforce to build healthier communities

February 3, 2022
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With help from Wisconsin’s Workforce Innovation Grant, UW-Eau Claire, Mayo Clinic, and others hope to train new generation of health care workers, teachers

EAU CLAIRE, WI. FEB. 3, 2022 – For leaders at UW-Eau Claire, it’s not enough to just work on today’s workforce challenges and address the shortfalls of health care workers and teachers – especially in rural Wisconsin. They want to ensure that the university is preparing its students to fulfill workforce needs today as well as the jobs of the future.

“We’re going to come up with some quick wins – nursing, social workers, teachers in our rural areas,” said Mike Carney, UW-Eau Claire assistant chancellor for strategic partnerships and program development, who helped create a collaboration between the university, school districts, health care providers and others. “We’re also going to meet emergent needs.”

It was that kind of thinking that helped UW-Eau Claire and university partners, including Mayo Clinic Health System in northwest Wisconsin, 13 school districts and seven county human services departments, receive up to $9.4 million in Workforce Innovation Grant funds to help build a pipeline of new health care workers, educators and social workers.

“The COVID-19 pandemic showed Wisconsin how much we rely on our health care workers, teachers and social service workers who have been nothing less than heroic during difficult times,” said Missy Hughes, secretary and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). “By supporting students and professionals with the training and experiences they need to grow their careers, we can ensure that more people go into these fulfilling careers and help ensure all Wisconsin residents will be able to access the health care and education they need.”

In December, Gov. Tony Evers announced the first round of Workforce Innovation Grants awarding up to $59.5 million to 12 collaborative programs addressing the state’s workforce challenges – including the one at UW-Eau Claire. 

“Wisconsin’s record-low unemployment and strong labor force participation rate are reasons to celebrate; yet the strong economic rebound means nurses, social workers and teachers are in short supply in many regions,” said Department of Workforce Development Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek. “UW-Eau Claire’s strategic partnerships with health care providers, school districts and county government will help streamline training and job placement for these career opportunities.”

Hughes, along with Pechacek, Department of Safety and Professional Services Secretary Dawn Crim and Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake visited the UW-Eau Claire campus Thursday to talk to the project leaders and students.

“We need a bigger pipeline to educate, license, and employ enough health care professionals to meet the ever-increasing demand for care. Expanding that pipeline so that we can get people into the workforce and providing much-needed services requires investment at all levels and collaboration across all sectors,” Crim said. “I applaud this project and others like it that optimize resources by leveraging partnerships to solve tough problems and meet the needs of the people of Wisconsin.” 

Addressing the need for health care workers now and in the future is one of the project’s key goals. 

“This partnership will go a long way toward easing the strain the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on our frontline workers, and in turn, ensure all Wisconsinites have access to quality health care,” Timberlake said. “We are looking forward to a successful collaboration that will grow our health care workforce now and into the future.”

Expanding on the university’s existing partnership with Mayo Clinic Health System in Northwest Wisconsin, UW-Eau Claire and the health system will work on streamlining the nursing curriculum through expanded use of simulations and dedicated education units. Both steps allow students to more efficiently use in-person clinical time for patient interaction.

“The demand for registered nurses across the nation continues to grow,” said Pam White, chief nursing officer for Mayo Clinic Health System in Northwest Wisconsin.  “This grant will help to train more nurses and other health care staff, increase the number of nurse educators, and help in the development of innovative models of care with a specific focus on rural health care needs.” 

The university will also be creating a new Master of Public Health degree with an emphasis on rural public health and begin to train students to become care coaches to effectively use technology to deliver community care virtually.

“Mayo Clinic Health System has a long history of transforming the practice of medicine.,” said Dr. Richard Helmers, regional vice president for Mayo Clinic Health System in Northwest Wisconsin. “Together with UW-Eau Claire, this effort will help to spur exciting new developments in health care delivery and health care education, right here in the Chippewa Valley.”

The Workforce Innovation Grants are paid for by $100 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, with a second round of grants expected to be announced later this year.

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