As the economy continues to recover from the oil and gas downturn, the health care job market in Greater Houston—including the Lake Houston area—has proven to be resilient as the population and demand for services continue to rise.

In December 2015, the Greater Houston Partnership’s annual employment forecast predicted around 9,000 health care jobs would be added during 2016, said Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research at GHP.

“So far [from January to August], we created 7,200 jobs [in the health care industry], so the numbers seem to be on track,” he said.

Health care market boom reaches Lake Houston areaJob market shift

The University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business reports the region lost nearly 25,000 oil production and services jobs and over 29,000 manufacturing jobs from December 2014 to July 2016. Hospital officials say these losses could explain why many workers are now moving to work in the health care industry.

“Memorial Hermann is seeing more and more people seeking employment in health care,” said Tanya Cook, vice president of talent acquisition and premier staffing for Memorial Hermann Health System. “That’s due largely to the downturn in the oil and energy [industry]. While our primary need is for health care clinicians, we are always looking for talented people for nonclinical jobs such as accounting and finance, and information and technology.”

Nearly 1 in 9 job holders in the Greater Houston area now works in the health care industry, and the sector has added nearly 50,000 jobs in the past five years according to the GHP.

Jankowski said two factors most contribute to the growth in health care jobs—the natural population increase from babies born in the area and an aging population. He said about 30,000 residents turn 65 years old each year.

“If you think about how Houston’s population has  grown over the last 30 years, our population has doubled,” he said. “There’s another factor in health care: People talk about baby boomers. One of the times you need health care is when you get older.”

Houston, local markets

[totalpoll id="197820"] Hospital officials and market experts agree the population increase is driving much of the market growth, steering it away from downtown Houston toward the suburbs. Hospital systems are looking outside Loop 610 for facility locations, Jankowski said.

“You’ve seen with health care—whether it’s the hospitals or urgent care centers or patient care centers—migrating to the suburbs. That comes from good business sense,” he said. “They’re trying to put their facilities as close to people as possible.”

Memorial Hermann Northeast is working to cater to Lake Houston area residents with Convenience Care centers, which provide walk-in primary care, said Heath Rushing, senior vice president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Northeast.

“What we understand is access to care is important to the community, and we have to have easily accessible resources in the communities where people live that’s convenient for them,” Rushing said.

The health system is targeting areas of Houston experiencing significant population growth, including the Lake Houston area. Memorial Hermann Northeast plans to open a Convenient Care Center in Kingwood in mid-2017 in addition to building a 5-story patient tower in place of the hospital’s South Tower at its campus in Humble.  The demolition of the hospital’s current South Tower will begin in December, Rushing said.

While the Convenient Care Center will offer outpatient and ambulatory services, such as a fullservice, 24-hour emergency room and laboratory services, the new patient tower will feature 90 new beds as well as a new kitchen, cafe and gift shop.

“Our community is growing, and we’re lucky to live in the Lake Houston area where residential growth is thriving, commercial growth is thriving and, with Humble ISD, school district growth is thriving. Memorial Hermann’s intention is to continue to grow in the Lake Houston area as it grows,” he said.

Other healthcare facilities are also being planned in the area. The Kingwood Medical Center opened a new Breast Cancer Center in October, which specializes in imaging, according to KMC officials. Commercial developer Signorelli Company, has plans for the Valley Ranch Medical Center, which could house a 300-bed hospital near the intersection of FM 1314 and Hwy. 59. Signorelli plans to select a hospital partner within the next four months, Marketing Coordinator Alyssa McGuire said.

Health care market boom reaches Lake Houston area Construction will begin on a five-story patient tower at the hospital campus of Memorial Hermann Northeast in December.[/caption]

Education opportunities

Keeping in line with demand, local higher education providers are also expanding their health care education offerings to prepare more students to enter the workforce. 

Statewide, the demand for nurses has grown in recent years due to population increases and life longevity, according to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.   

Lone Star College System’s nursing program—which is offered at five campuses, including LSC-Kingwood—is the largest program offered by LSCS,
said Linda Luehrs-Wolfe, LSC-Kingwood dean of sciences and health occupations.

“[Program] offerings are determined by several factors, including space and availability of jobs—which continues to grow for nursing,” Luehrs-Wolfe said. “We develop our programs in [conjunction] with the various health care providers in the region to ensure they are able to hire a well-trained workforce.”

Some health care degree programs are now at capacity, Luehrs-Wolfe said, prompting LSCS to plan for larger facilities, including a third floor on LSC-Tomball’s health science building and a new health care instructional building at LSC-Kingwood, both planned as part of the college system’s $485 million  bond package approved by voters in 2014.

Additionally, a four-year degree program from LSCS could also be on the horizon for area students interested in nursing, said Amos McDonald, LSC vice chancellor of external affairs.

“There is a huge demand for health care workers, and allowing Lone Star College to offer four-year degrees in this field will help ensure our community has the ‘people power’ to keep up with the need,” McDonald said.

Future growth

“You’ve seen with health care—whether it’s the hospitals or urgent care centers or patient care centers—migrating to the suburbs. That comes from good business sense. They’re trying to put their facilities as close to people as possible.”

—Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research at the Greater Houston Partnership

Regardless of when the economy completely recovers, Jankowski said growth in the health care market will likely continue as the steady population increase shows no signs of slowing down.

“The data the Census Bureau released … showed Houston had just shy of 100,000 babies born [in 2016],” Jankowski said. “If you subtract the deaths from the births, you get what’s called the ‘natural increase’ of 65,000.”

Factored into the net population growth of 10.9 percent and 18 percent over the past five years for Harris and Montgomery counties, respectively, the area will continue to see a need for more health care services in the years to come, according to the GHP.

“As long as mankind is around, health care will be a strong field,” Jankowski said.

Additional reporting by Chris Shelton