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Opinion | Alabama’s healthcare workforce needs the Alabama School of Healthcare Sciences

We strongly encourage the Alabama Legislature to authorize and fund the Alabama School of Healthcare Sciences.

The Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery.
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The State of Alabama is home to world-class health systems and institutions, and as the CEOs of some of those health systems, we are proud of the work we do to ensure the well-being of all Alabamians.

The chief reason we can provide exceptional care to patients across this state is our workforce. From the business offices to the recovery rooms, we are fortunate to have talented team members who fulfill our mission to provide high-quality, cost-effective healthcare services in our communities. With a combined 71,000 employees and nearly 7,000 physicians in our systems and hospital networks, we know the value of a strong workforce, and we are concerned about future projections.

Across the nation, healthcare administrators face a continuous challenge of finding people to meet the growing needs of the people we serve. According to the federal Health Resources & Service Administration, all Baby Boomers will reach the age of 65 or older by 2030, accounting for 1 out of every 5 Americans. And by 2036, the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis makes some daunting projections, including these national workforce shortages:

  • 337,970 registered nurses
  • 99,070 licensed practical nurses
  • 23,320 dental hygienists
  • 6,710 respiratory therapists
  • 6,510 physical therapists

Alabama is not immune to these same workforce shortages, and while we have worked hard to improve the level of care we provide Alabamians in every corner of the state, we need our state’s leaders to work with us to provide unique solutions to address and incentivize our next generation of employees.

It’s not just at our urban hospitals where the healthcare workforce need is great. We operate and manage facilities in the rural areas of Alabama, where the issue is even more pronounced. As our rural population ages, the need for more workers rises. The need isn’t just for doctors and nurses. From physical therapy assistants to respiratory therapists to lab technicians to phlebotomists, we must address the extraordinary vacancies felt throughout our network of hospitals.

More than a year ago, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey proposed building the Alabama School of Healthcare Sciences. This year, Gov. Ivey again encouraged members of the Alabama Legislature to invest in this school.

Gov. Ivey, with support from healthcare experts across the state, has selected Demopolis for the school’s location. The Legislature’s commissioned feasibility study confirmed Demopolis as the ideal site for the school. The school’s campus, adjacent to Whitfield Regional Hospital, would focus on addressing the incredible need for rural healthcare workers throughout Alabama.

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As administrators of the largest healthcare systems in Alabama, we want to offer Gov. Ivey our full support for this project. 

Building the Alabama School of Healthcare Sciences represents an innovative approach to addressing the lingering need we have in our state for more qualified healthcare workers, especially in our state’s rural areas. This residential high school would not only create a ready-to-work generation of employees trained to serve in our hospitals but also provide an excellent educational choice for Alabama’s parents and students.

We applaud the vision of Gov. Ivey, and we strongly encourage the Alabama Legislature to authorize and fund the Alabama School of Healthcare Sciences.

Dawn Bulgarella is the CEO of the UAB Health System and the UAB/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance. Jeff Samz is the CEO of the Huntsville Hospital Health System. Owen Bailey is the CEO of USA Health. Katrina Keefer is the CEO of DCH Health System.

About our Healthcare Systems:

UAB Health System

The $6.4 billion UAB Health System comprises the Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine and all of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s patient-care activities, including more than 2,600 licensed beds in a system of 11 owned, affiliate and network entities across the state. This includes UAB Hospital, which is the 8th largest in the nation, a winner of the Women’s Choice Award and one of U.S. News and World Report’s Best Hospitals. UABHS encompasses the largest multi-specialty group of health care professionals in Alabama, with approximately 1,550 physicians serving patients from every state in the nation and many countries around the world; Callahan Eye Hospital, the only specialty eye hospital in Alabama and one of only a few in the world entirely dedicated to advancements in ophthalmology; and Viva Health which serve more than 78,500 Alabamians through Medicare or employer-sponsored health plans. UAB, a part of the University of Alabama system, is the state of Alabama’s largest single employer and an internationally renowned research university and academic health center; its professional schools and specialty patient care programs are consistently ranked among the nation’s top 50. UAB is the largest academic medical center in Alabama and one of the top four largest medical centers in the United States. UAB is advancing innovative discoveries for better health as a three-time recipient of the prestigious Center for Translational Science Award.

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Huntsville Hospital Health System

Huntsville Hospital Health System is a comprehensive network of community, not-for-profit hospitals that serve as the primary provider of services and the healthcare safety net for more than 1.5 million people in northern Alabama and southern Tennessee. The Health System includes hospitals and related facilities in Huntsville, Athens, Boaz, Decatur, Fort Payne, Guntersville, Madison, Moulton, Red Bay, Scottsboro, Sheffield, and Fayetteville, TN.  Total employment of Huntsville Hospital Health System is more than 18,000. For more information visit www.hh.health

USA Health

USA Health, the health system for the University of South Alabama, is the only academic health system along the upper Gulf Coast. With more than 40 care delivery locations, including USA Health University Hospital, USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital, USA Health Providence Hospital and the USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute, and physician practices sites throughout the area, the health system melds clinical care, research and healthcare education into the most advanced medical care in the region.

DCH Health System

DCH Health System

For over a century, the DCH Health System has offered advanced medical care to the communities of West Alabama, and beyond. The health system is comprised of the 583-bed DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, the 204-bed Northport Medical Center, and more than 180 beds at Fayette Medical Center and Nursing Home. The DCH Health system offers a variety of specialty units and advanced services, including cancer, cardiology, robotic and minimally invasive surgery, and the region’s advanced trauma center. For more information, visit dchsystem.com.

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