Nonprofit formed to find health workers

Alliance also to train people at entry levels


The Baltimore Healthcare Coalition - a consortium of foundations, medical providers and institutions - announced yesterday the formation of a nonprofit corporation that plans to find and train entry level workers to fill a "critical shortage" within the city's medical industry.

Called the Baltimore Alliance for Careers in Health- care, or BACH, the group has been promised $925,000 from six area foundations, including Abell and Annie E. Casey, to help get the corporation going and support its mission of filling 314 vacant jobs over the next year.

Many of the jobs pay $8.63 to $29.26 an hour.

Health care is the largest industry in Maryland, employing 67,000 people in various hospitals and medical facilities. But shortages in certain entry-level, technical positions - including nursing assistants and surgical technicians - are leading toward substandard care, experts said.

"It has an effect on quality and the ability to function," said Ronald M. Hearn Jr., a former vice president of Baltimore City Community College and BACH's recently hired executive director.

"It could have impact on the quality of care for patients," Hearn said.

In 2002, the health care division of the American Federation of Teachers union surveyed more than 900 hospital workers across the country and found shortages in multiple positions - laboratory technician, for example, is left unfilled 12 percent of the time.

The Maryland Hospital Association surveyed area hospitals and found vacancy rates of about 10 percent in seven key positions, said Vice President Catherine Crowley.

"What we often find, is that people need some help to get into some of these jobs, and one of the roles of the alliance will be to help identify these [vacant] jobs and make that known to people and help them qualify," Crowley said.

The alliance is temporarily headquartered in Howard County until it can find a home in the city.

The organization is targeting unemployed residents as well as low-wage health care workers looking to move up in the field. As part of its efforts, the alliance plans to form a health care academy to train people as well as take over a "career coach" program the Health- care Coalition launched last year.

In 2004, that program gave grants of $15,000 to $30,000 each to five area hospitals, which they matched and used to hire employment coaches to train low-wage workers for higher-paying jobs. BACH will give grants totaling $105,000 this year to continue the project.

"I think for city residents, this is opening a whole new realm of advancement opportunities," said Patrice Cromwell, a senior fellow with the Annie E. Casey Foundation who helped launch the project. "We have both a high unemployment rate and a very low labor participation rate and this is a way that helps people get into the industry."

At the University of Maryland Medical Center, the career-coach program has led to increased retention of new workers, said Jo-Ann Williams, who manages the hospital's employee development services.

More than 90 percent of those who graduated from the program in May are employed at the hospital, compared with a typical retention rate of about 50 percent to 60 percent.

"It's really doing what we intended it to do by giving the extra support so people are able to move into higher paying jobs," Williams said.

BACH jobs

The Baltimore Alliance for Careers in Healthcare (BACH) plans to train 314 city residents for entry-level positions within the medical field this year, which include:

Nurse extender - Provides nutritional and clinical support and transportation for patients. Hourly rate: $10.19 to $15.28.

Nursing assistant - Performs delegated patient care functions of an "uncomplicated nature." Hourly rate: $8.63 to $14.50.

Surgical technician - Performs a variety of operating-room duties, including scrubbing and instrument preparation. Hourly rate: $12.56 to $21.45.

Pharmacy technician - Prepares packages, distributes and delivers medication. Hourly rate: $10.37 to $15.98.

Radiologic technician - Performs radiographic procedures used in diagnosis and treatment. Hourly rate: $17.88 to $27.83.

Respiratory therapist - Sets up and maintains oxygen and other therapeutic-gas equipment for patients with cardiopulmonary disease. Hourly rate: $17.94 to $29.26.

Medical lab technician - Conducts routine tests for use in diagnosis and treatment of disease. Hourly rate: $13.77 to $22.72.

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