Stimulus plan to give $220M for health training

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 | 6:23 p.m. CDT

TOPEKA, Kan. — U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said Tuesday that $220 million in federal stimulus funds will be disbursed to programs across the country to train workers in health care and other high-growth industries.

Tuesday was the first day facilities could begin applying for the money through the Department of Labor. Solis unveiled the plan during a tour of the Shawnee County Community Health Care Clinic in Topeka, saying health care services would be one of the fastest growing career fields over the next decade as the population ages.

"We know there's a shortage," Solis said after touring the clinic.

She devoted much of her remarks to health care reform and President Barack Obama's desire to push a health care reform bill through Congress this summer. She said such training grants were part of the equation, helping to provide an adequate work force needed to meet demands in rural states and areas seeing high unemployment.

Solis said that $25 million of the funds would be reserved for training in communities hurt by the recent restructuring of the auto industry. She said training unemployed workers was part of the process of restructuring the economy as it tries to emerge from the longest recession after World War II.

The stimulus money is to go to public entities and private nonprofit groups that train workers in health information technology, nursing, long-term care and allied health careers.

The Shawnee County health center in Topeka, which would be eligible for the aid, is home to the public clinic and county health department. It has a staff of 179 and treated nearly 7,000 clients in 2008, including many without health insurance.

The Labor Department will begin taking applications for the stimulus funds Tuesday.

Solis said applications would begin being reviewed within two months and grants would be awarded by year's end. She said those applications that build on existing collaborations would be looked upon favorably, such a programs through community colleges or technical schools.

The program targets people like Clayton Bledsoe, a 40-year-old nurse who began nursing training in 2006 when the economy began to sour. Bledsoe, who took courses through Neosho County Community College in eastern Kansas and eventually earned his registered nursing degree, was held up by Solis as an example of the type of retrained workers the program hopes to create.

The former quarry worker works with geriatric patients at Anderson County Hospital in Garnett, about 50 miles south of Topeka.

"I just wanted something that I wouldn't have to worry about looking to find a job again," Bledsoe said. "I know that there would be something out there."


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