May 5, 2023 - Education

Nonprofit infuses NWA health care with a batch of new workers

Illustration of a caduceus wearing a graduation cap.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The first group of participants to start and finish their education with assistance from Upskill NWA — a program designed to help people who are pursuing careers in health care to afford school — is out in the workforce.

Driving the news: Mercy Health System announced this week it hired nine program graduates.

  • Eighteen people completed the program this spring, 17 of whom have been hired by Mercy, Northwest Health, Washington Regional Medical System, Arkansas Children's Northwest or Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas, Ali Johnson, marketing director for the Excellerate Foundation, told Axios.

Context: Upskill is an initiative of Excellerate, a Rogers-based nonprofit that focuses on social and economic support such as affordable housing.

Why it matters: The program is designed to help fill open jobs in health care, an area of increasing need in NWA, while giving a boost to people who otherwise may not be able to pursue those positions.

  • The Northwest Arkansas Council lists 331 open jobs for registered nurses, plus 140 spots for licensed practical and vocational nurses.
  • The need is only expected to grow as the health care industry develops in the region with projects such as Arkansas Children's Northwest planned expansion and Mercy's $500 million expansion announced last year. That includes increasing bed space at the Rogers hospital, more clinics and services in primary care, neuroscience, emergency, obstetrics and newborn care, orthopedics, gastroenterology and behavioral health.

Of note: Johnson explained this isn't technically the first group to complete the Upskill NWA program, but last year's graduates had already started school when they applied.

Details: Upskill NWA provides financial assistance to people pursuing careers in registered nursing, licensed practical nursing, surgical technologist, respiratory therapy, emergency medical technician and radiologic imaging sciences.

  • Applicants must earn less than 80% of the area median income, which is $66,960 in NWA, according to Fannie Mae.
  • Several local health care systems will pay one-third of financial assistance for students who agree to work for them upon completion of the Upskill NWA program, Jeff Webster, president and CEO of the Excellerate Foundation, previously told Axios.

What's next: Excellerate is looking to recruit 60 more people for its next cohort, which can take up to 121 participants, Johnson told Axios.

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