Health care industry boom reaches Fort Bend County

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As Houston’s economy continues to recover from the oil and gas downturn last year, the health care job market in Greater Houston—including Richmond and Fort Bend County—has proven to be resilient as the area 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 industry boom reaches Fort Bend CountyJob 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 oil and energy business. 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.

“[Hospitals are] trying to put their facilities as close to people as possible.”

— Patrick Jankowski, Greater Houston Partnership Senior Vice President of research

“If you think about how Houston’s [metro]population has grown over the last 30 years, our population has doubled over the last 30 years,” 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

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.

Although the Texas Medical Center is still one of the largest employers for health care workers, large hospital systems are also looking outside Loop 610 for new 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.”

Health systems are targeting areas of Houston experiencing significant population growth, including the southwest area. In September, the Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital opened its $93 million expansion  which included a new six-story, 155,000-square-foot facility.

In Richmond, nonprofit OakBend Medical Center is the largest healthcare provider in Fort Bend County and has more than doubled its staff size since 2000, according to hospital records.

OakBend Medical Center CEO Joe Freudenberger said the Williams Way hospital has expanded to include a specialized senior care unit for elderly patients with psychiatric disorders. He said it is the only hospital-based skilled nursing facility in the county.

“This unit uses scientifically-developed design concepts with carefully researched care protocols to reduce the length of an inpatient admission by 40%, a benefit for the patient that lasts for up to a year post-discharge from the hospital,” Freudenberger said.

In 2015, the hospital launched  Vision2020, a fundraising effort to upgrade and expand its Jackson Street hospital campus to keep pace with growth.

“The Vision 2020 capital campaign is dedicated to creating the optimal healing environment,” he said. “Research clearly shows that a warm, comfortable, home-like environment encourages patient and family engagement, two essential ingredients in improving outcomes.”

Freudenberger said the hospital system has seen notable increases in the volume of cardiac care, stroke services, surgery and outpatient diagnostic testing.

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.   

Health care industry boom reaches Fort Bend CountyThe University of Houston System’s nursing programs—which are offered at its main and Sugar Land campuses—are expanding to admit more students, and the system has seen an increased interest in the advanced practice registered nurse program, said Kathryn Tart, dean of the UH School of Nursing.

“We hope to expand our nursing courses to the UH main campus next fall. We are also working on expanding the UH School of Nursing with a proposal for a [Doctor of Nursing Practice] program,” she said. “We are also looking to expand in the Katy area with the UH System.”

Tart said the system partners with area hospitals for both clinical learning opportunities and job placement, as hospitals have expressed  an increased interest in hiring APRN graduates.

“The second degree BSN program has [also]shown a dramatic increase in interest and enrollment over the last five years. We recently accepted a class of over 100 students for spring 2017 admission,” Tart said.   

Houston Community College also offers 19 different allied health programs ranging from short-term certificates to associate degrees, said Philip Nicotera, HCC Coleman College for Health Sciences president.

He said the college has seen growth across all allied health fields but especially in the surgical care specialties.

“When we look at allied health programs, at any school, these are limited acceptance programs,” he said. “Houston is an area with a lot of colleges and universities, and there are a limited number of clinical spaces [for learning purposes].”

Nicotera estimates the college receives two applications for every open seat in a program, making acceptance highly competitive.

Future growth

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.

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Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.
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