Health care seen as new growth engine

November 28, 2004|TODD KLEFFMAN

In sickness and in health.

That phrase has long been a part of traditional marriage vows. It can also be used to describe the way new partners Ephraim McDowell Health and Inter County Energy envision the future as the area transitions from the old manufacturing economy to the new service economy.

The two companies are teaming up to launch a synergistic pilot program they hope will become a catalyst that drives growth down the road, with health care jobs created by an aging population as the main engine that keeps the economy healthy, in place of disappearing factory jobs.

"Looking to the future, we were trying to find something stable for our local economy and what we came up with is health care," explained Inter County President Jim Jacobus. "It's always going to be here. We're always going to need it. It's not something that can be farmed out to outside the area. It has to be delivered here."


Clark Taylor, CEO of Ephraim McDowell Health, said that while Danville has been blessed with a solid industrial base that has provided good jobs to the area for years, the future for manufacturing isn't so bright.

"Danville's industry has been stable, but there hasn't been a new manufacturing industry come to town is six or seven years," Taylor said. "Manufacturing doesn't play the role it has in the past. We need to diversify."

Taylor said health care will continue to a growth industry well into the foreseeable future. As the massive Baby Boom generation gets older and sicker, while also living longer, caring for them will require new facilities and new workers, Taylor said.

"There's a huge number of people who didn't die of heart attacks at age 50 or other diseases that killed people in previous generations who are going to need hip replacements and treatment for Alzheimer's and other things," Taylor said. "How are we going to respond to that need to treat those people? The demand will be there. Is the supply of health care professionals going to be there? That's what we need to work on."

Health care as a career

Toward that end, McDowell and Inter County are developing strategies meant to get people thinking about health care as a career and preparing them for it.

For example, Inter County has already begun using its eight-page section in Kentucky Living, the magazine published by parent company Eastern Kentucky Power and distributed to all its customers, to discuss health care issues with a local focus on activities at Ephraim McDowell.

While the benefits of such cross promotion to McDowell are obvious, Jacobus said the electric company stands to benefit long-term as well. If new assisted living facilities are built, they could become new Inter County customers, he said. New health care jobs will also keep the economy healthy, bringing in new residential customers and allowing residents to build new homes.

Also, other businesses might sprout up to feed the health care industry. Jacobus used the hypothetical example of a commercial laundry setting up shop in Danville to service growth at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center and other hospitals and related facilities in the area.

"Good health care itself attracts businesses and industries to locate in a community and we benefit from that increase in our load," Jacobus said.

For its part, McDowell plans to boost its presence at school career days and job fairs to sell health care as a good choice for people who want to live and work in the area. The idea is the develop a homegrown workforce, so McDowell doesn't have to compete for employees with hospitals in larger cities that can offer better pay and benefits.

250 careers at hospital

A hospital offers 250 distinctly different careers, Taylor said. The industry is stable and offers relatively good pay and benefits, he said, so health care could be an attractive choice for many people who might not want spend all those years in college to become a physician or registered nurse.

"We want to start educating kids in the fifth grade and seventh grade and high school and increasing awareness of health care careers, that it's not just doctors and nurses," he said. "I think more and more young people today want to make a difference with their lives, they want to be a caring person. Health care offers that kind of opportunity."

Taylor also said McDowell will work with local branches of Eastern Kentucky University and Midway College to increase their offerings related to health care, and with vocational schools to provide more classes geared toward health care fields.

The program is still in its infancy, but if successful, could be used as a model for similar partnerships in other regions of the state.

"We're on the early side of this, we're still conceptualizing it,' Taylor said.

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