Gov. Kay Ivey announced in her State of the State address last week that the state would be establishing a the Alabama School of Healthcare Sciences to create boost the state’s healthcare workforce.
Ivey’s proposal outlines the details of the new school, including a $62 million proposed budget for capital construction. The campus will be strategically located adjacent to Whitfield Regional Hospital in Demopolis.
“This is something that we’ve been working on for about a year now,” said Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, who represents the area. “Having this school located in the Black Belt will be a game-changer that will allow us to train and graduate medical support workers who can work in our area and throughout the state.”
The residential high school will welcome students from across the state during their 9th or 10th grade year, allowing them to receive three-or-four years of training, which will prepare them for a broad range of healthcare jobs that they can enter immediately upon graduation, and provide a strong foundation for students who want to continue their education at two-or-four-year colleges.
“This is a visionary endeavor,” said Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Gallion, who represents Marengo County. “Our healthcare system needs people in all areas, and this is an opportunity for us to help direct and focus young people who may have an interest in the medical field. This high school will give them a little head start on gaining the skills needed to immediately get them into the workforce.”
Healthcare is the second biggest state industry by employment, representing 14 percent of Alabama jobs. Health industry jobs make up many of the top 50 highest earning occupations in the state, including 9 of the top 10. According to the Alabama Department of Labor, the state’s top 40 fastest growing occupations between 2014-2024 include 17 health-related professions. These include dentists and dental hygienists, physical and occupational therapists, advanced practice providers, registered nurses, social workers, and speech and language pathologists, as well as assistant positions like medical and nursing assistants, physical therapy assistants, and home health and personal care aides.
Shortages are not confined to direct patient care roles, but also impact other critical positions including roles in information management, nutrition services, and healthcare administration. The overall projections for all healthcare occupations show a cumulative need in Alabama for at least 5,815 new positions each year between now and the year 2024.
The school is set to be complete by Spring of 2026 and will provide students with a concentration of science, technology, engineering, math, and medical programs embedded across the curriculum. Additionally, students will gain competencies in cultural awareness, interprofessional teamwork, behavioral health integration, communication, telehealth, social determinants of health, and practice transformation.
The City of Demopolis identified 10 acres on South Cedar Avenue adjacent to Whitfield Regional Hospital as a potential site for the school. The site was formerly a New Era Cap Co. facility that closed in 2010 and has been used by Demopolis for equipment storage since. The city is committed to deeding the property to the Alabama School of Healthcare Sciences Foundation, a non-profit organization being set up to govern the school. The city has also committed to clearing the land and preparing the site for the new building.
“Demopolis covers all the principle needs – a mid-size regional medical center partner with additional hospitals in the area, an ideal location for size and proximity to the hospital, and a welcoming and thriving community– for this school to be successful,” Ivey’s proposal states.