Throughout the Gulf Coast region—which includes Harris and Montgomery counties—there is a growing long-term demand for skilled health care professionals projected through 2024, according to data from the Texas Workforce Commission.
The health care and social assistance industry—which includes ambulatory health care services, hospitals, nursing and residential care facilities as well as social assistance positions—is projected to grow 36 percent, adding 116,100 jobs by 2024, according to TWC data.
With more jobs on the way, institutions of higher education like Lone Star College-Tomball are responsible for preparing graduates to keep up with workforce demand, said Scott Stallman, vice president of instruction at LSC-Tomball.
“It’s central to the mission of community colleges to respond to the needs of the workforce in the area,” Stallman said. “It’s important for us to provide learning opportunities that lead to jobs.”
While LSC-Tomball offers a range of health care professional tracks—including certificates or associate degrees in nursing, pharmacy technology, occupational therapy assistant, surgical technology and veterinary technology—additions to health care programs are planned throughout the college system through 2019.
“We are trying to place students all over the health care [field] to meet the needs of the district,” Stallman said. “All of our programs are in response to the community and the jobs in the community. We do not build programs in health and sciences that don’t have jobs at the end of the tunnel.”
Growth of the region
While the health care industry is projected to add more than 116,000 jobs between 2014 and 2024, the ambulatory health care field is expected to lead the industry in job growth, adding more than 62,000 jobs during that time, according to TWC data.
However, employment data from the Greater Houston Partnership—a regional economic development organization—shows a recent slowdown in the number of health care professionals hired. In September 2015, new health care hires in Houston peaked at 14,500 individuals. Last December, new hires totaled 6,400 employees.
Even with the short-term decline, the market still demands skilled health care professionals, GHP Director of Research Jenny Philip said. She said she expects local hospitals and private groups to continue building stand-alone facilities as well as emergency and urgent care facilities in Houston’s suburban areas, including Tomball and Magnolia.
In Magnolia, CareNow Urgent Care opened most recently on Research Forest Drive in November. Next Level Urgent Care is under construction in Augusta Woods Village in Tomball and is slated to open by this summer.
Officials said they believe industry growth is in response to the area’s rapid development.
Construction of the Tomball Tollway extension—the future tolled portion of Hwy. 249 from FM 2920 to Hwy. 105 in Navasota—rattles the entrances to LSC-Tomball, Stallman said.
“You can see the growth right outside our window,” he said. “When you see that, it’s exciting. But we know [with growth], more services are going to be needed like health care facilities.”
With anticipated growth, local medical centers must expand services, hire more staff and open more locations, said Lee Anne Kroon, executive director of TOMAGWA Health Care Services, a nonprofit organization providing health care services for the Tomball, Magnolia and Waller communities.
“Our area is exploding,” she said. “The demand [for health care services] is going to continue to grow. We are going to have to find ways to meet the need and increase capacity.”
TOMAGWA charted a 28 percent increase in patient visits from 2016-17 at its two facilities in Tomball and Magnolia, Kroon said. TOMAGWA opened a satellite clinic on FM 1488 in March 2017. Kroon said TOMAGWA hopes to open another location in Waller, but additional funds are needed to do so.
Sharon Ikeler, chief nursing officer at Tomball Regional Medical Center, said she believes strong educational partnerships with nearby health care education programs are vital to meet the need for more health care practitioners.
“Our field evolves every single day,” she said. “If we can have those academic partners, we can stay on the cutting edge, [which] parlays to a better outcome and experience for our patients.”
In 2011, LSC-Tomball opened its Health and Science Building, located near TRMC.
By conducting their clinical experience, like shadowing nurses, and other training at TRMC, LSC-Tomball students can understand the company’s culture and network with employees, Ikeler said. She said she believes this relationship entices students to fulfill their career aspirations.
“It helps us grow in every health care discipline we have,” Ikeler said.
While only some students can conduct observation hours at TRMC due to space limitations, Ikeler said she believes the facilities at the Health and Science Building are cutting-edge. The facility includes a medical library, simulation laboratories, an operating room and additional educational resources. The simulation labs mirror training programs implemented at TRMC called StaRN, a Specialty Training Apprentice for registered nurses, which is a 12-week training program for new graduate nurses, Ikeler said.
“We find by utilizing all of those resources, we get a stronger nurse,” she said.
LSCS is also developing its proposal for the inaugural four-year nursing program housed at LSC-Montgomery, which must be approved the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Board of Nursing, LSCS Chancellor Stephen Head said. The system hopes to launch the Bachelor of Science in nursing program in fall 2019.
In June, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 2118 that allows the THECB to authorize select public junior colleges like LSC-Montgomery to offer four-year degree tracks, LSCS officials said.
Although LSC-Tomball does not offer all health care programs offered by the LSCS like the 4-year nursing program, it is the only campus that offers the veterinary and surgical technology programs. However, students can take classes at any of the other LSCS campuses for additional health care programs.
Later this spring, LSC-University Park plans to open a $15.4 million Center for Science Innovation facility on Hwy. 249, according to LSCS officials. The center is a part of the system’s $485 million bond package approved by voters in 2014.
Despite adding health care programs and facilities, many of the LSCS health care programs have a student capacity that varies by campus, officials said. For example, LSC-Tomball can only accept 20 students for the occupational therapy assistant program although 118 students applied to the program in the fall, LSC-Tomball officials said.
Shelley Diviney, the dean of health and science at LSC-Tomball, said the program requested approval from its accrediting board to accept 10 additional students—a 50 percent increase—each year. The accrediting board will make a decision in April, she said.
TOMAGWA also allows college students to shadow and volunteer at its facilities, Kroon said.
“They get hands-on, real-life experience with the patients we see,” she said.
Preparing the next generation
In addition to partnerships with institutions of higher education, TRMC also partners with nearby school districts to provide health care-related awareness.
“It is important to build the interest when they are young so they can focus on it throughout their academic journey,” Ikeler said.
Magnolia ISD offers emergency medical technician and certified nursing assistant certifications to its high school students as part of its Career and Technical Education programs.
Since the CNA program began in the 2013-14 school year, 70 students have graduated with a certificate, MISD Director of Communication Denise Meyers said. Thirty-three students have completed the EMT certificate program, which launched the following school year. Most of the students who finish the CTE program continue to a four-year university, Meyers said.
“The health care industry, specifically with the addition of several hospitals in The Woodlands, has boomed the past couple of years,” MISD CTE Director Michael Daniel said. “This is a great opportunity for our students who get these endorsements [to] be competitive in these careers.”
Tomball ISD also offers CTE programs in basic life support CPR, certified nursing assistant, certified personal trainer, EMT, pharmacy technician and registered dental assistant, according to district information. The programs enroll 726 students in the 2017-18 school year.
“Students who participate in the health science programs have the opportunity to see the health care industry from the inside,” TISD CTE Director Jessica Ozuna said. “They are empowered to be more successful in their field earning not only an industry certification but gaining real-world experience, confidence and professional contacts.”