In 2007, a $2.4 million U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) grant created an opportunity for Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) to address two pressing needs within the Greater Cleveland area: the projected shortages in five health-care professions and the need for health care for uninsured and underinsured community members. By seizing this opportunity, Tri-C was able to fulfill a dual mission that is shared with so many of today’s colleges and universities that have the capacity to improve our nation’s health care.
The grant came about following a survey of healthcare providers in northeast Ohio that indicated current and future shortages in medical assistants, health information management technicians, occupational and physical therapist assistants, and physician assistants. Without the DOL funding, adding students to each of these programs would have been impossible. Laboratory space was already crowded and additional clinical experience venues were difficult to find. The grant allowed Tri-C to increase enrollment in each of the five programs in the three grant years for a total of 150 additional students.
In addition, the college was able to construct two Health, Wellness and Preventative Care Centers (PCC) on its campuses. The PCCs provide additional laboratory space for students to learn the skills needed for their future practice, as well as provide community members with health-care services free of charge. Under the supervision of licensed professionals, students get hands-on experience with treating patients, and members of the community, who are uninsured or whose benefits have run out, receive the care they need. The new centers include areas for private examinations, occupational and physical therapy, and rooms for educational community programs. Services include basic health screenings, rehabilitation, programs for older adults, programs in pain management, and exercise and education programs to promote wellness and prevent injuries.
In addition to state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, the PCCs are outfitted with an academic electronic health record system. Students chart patient information using the electronic record, which is maintained by health information management technology students. The system provides an opportunity both to educate and to maintain efficient records of client visits.
The PCCs also have fostered partnerships within the health-care community. Students have gained experience working with Cleveland State University’s physical therapy students, with Ohio School of Podiatric Medicine practitioners who will deliver care to clients at the centers, and with the Free Clinic of Cleveland, which provides screenings and care at the centers.
A DOL spokesperson said, “After an extensive review, we are pleased to recognize the excellence we witnessed at Cuyahoga Community College’s Preventative Care Centers with the ‘Best Practice’ designation.” In the first year of operation, the PCCs served more than 100 clients. Patient/client feedback has been positive, and students have gained invaluable community experience. Cuyahoga Community College was able to leverage government funding to solve capacity issues, create an infrastructure to build and maintain the PCCs, and prepare for tomorrow’s health-care staffing needs today.
Jerry Sue Thornton is president of Cuyahoga Community College.