EAST ST. LOUIS – Reinforcing his Opportunity Returns pledge to create quality jobs in Southwest Illinois, Gov. Rod Blagojevich today announced $615,000 in funding to meet urgent employment needs in the Southwest Illinois workforce. Through the Governor’s Critical Skills Shortage Initiative, the grant will be used to support the region’s health care industry and notably the projected shortage of registered nurses. With this grant, more than 450 new workers will enter the industry or advance their skills to meet the needs of clinics and hospitals across the region. Gov. Blagojevich highlighted the nursing shortage during his State of the State address in February, and the innovative program remains a vital component of his Opportunity Returns strategy to build a more dynamic and skilled workforce by strengthening education and job training. Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director (DCEO) Jack Lavin made the announcement today at Kenneth Hall Regional Hospital in East St. Louis alongside doctors, nurses, educators and elected officials from throughout the Southwest region.
"Experts and administrators in the health care industry know how difficult it can be to find skilled nursing staff, and this Opportunity Returns grant will help to meet this need. Nurses are critical to effective care in clinics and hospitals, and it is our responsibility to meet this need by providing classes and advancing skills of health care professionals in Southwest Illinois," Gov. Blagojevich said. "Workforce investments are one of the most important investments our state can make. Not only do these investments benefit employers, but they help workers to advance their skills and move into higher paying jobs."
The Critical Skills Shortage Initiative funding will support the collaboration of public and private partners within the educational and health care industries and, ultimately, result in an additional 40 new registered nurses, 40 nurses reentering the workforce and 377 supervisors trained. The $615,000 in Opportunity Returns funding will address the specific needs of Southwest Illinois through three targeted themes:
Project HEAL will combine the efforts of St. Anthony’s Hospital, Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation, Southwestern Illinois College and Lewis and Clark Community College to expand the capacity to produce registered nurses. This project will focus on licensed practical nurses and others in the health care field that want to become registered nurses by participating in on-site, workplace based educational programs. Assistance will be provided to the nursing students to assist with tuition costs, support services and career coaches/mentors.
Project RENEW will focus on providing nurse refresher courses through Kaskaskia Community College and Lewis and Clark Community College to help nurses who have left the workforce reinstate their licenses and reenter the profession.
Project BEST will work to reduce workplace stress and help retain health care workers by piloting an innovative, workplace-based management and supervisory skills training program for front-line nursing supervisors.
Additionally, a health care business services coordinator will be hired to help expand the region’s capacity to produce nurses and other critical health care workers by coordinating activities with education and training providers and the private sector, identifying additional clinical slots for nursing students, providing career guidance and awareness for high school and non-traditional students, as well as identifying best practices for training health care workers.
"First-rate health care for our region starts with having a strong talent pool that we can draw from and, currently, there are significant shortages and very real needs that must be met. With Gov. Blagojevich’s support, our region will be able to advance the skills of local health care workers and meet critical employment needs of this sector," said Bob Klutts, CEO of Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation.
Previously, stakeholders from throughout the region, including the Local Workforce Investment Boards, area employers, economic development professionals, educators and service providers, used a $172,000 Opportunity Returns planning grant to identify industry sectors, and specific occupations within those sectors, where there are current or projected shortages of skilled workers. The regional consortium projected worker shortages in a range of specific fields within the health care industry, and they developed an action plan to meet that need.
"These Opportunity Returns investments not only contribute to the health of our regional economy, but advance the skills of the local workforce. Gov. Blagojevich and I understand it is imperative that we tackle this important issue so we can meet the current and future demand for nurses," said State Senator James Clayborne (D-East St. Louis).
"It is vital that we maintain a first-rate health care system, and I commend Gov. Blagojevich for making these critical workforce investments in East St. Louis and throughout our region that will help produce better jobs and grow our local economy," said State Representative Wyvetter Younge (D-East St. Louis).
"Recently, we’ve heard local hospitals are struggling to care for patients because they don’t have enough nursing staff, and it’s great that Gov. Blagojevich took the lead through his Critical Skills Shortage Initiative to meet this need in the future. Nearly a dozen hospitals throughout Southwest Illinois, including Sparta Community Hospital, Chester Memorial Hospital and Redbud Regional Hospital, will have new nurses to meet critical patient needs," said State Representative Dan Reitz (D-Sparta).
"Hospitals throughout the area, and countless other partners, teamed to find region-wide solutions to meet nursing shortages throughout Southwest Illinois. It’s through Gov. Blagojevich’s Opportunity Returns initiatives that we are meeting local workforce needs that keep our region strong," said State Representative Thomas Holbrook (D-Belleville).
"When Gov. Blagojevich launched Opportunity Returns in Southwest Illinois, he made a commitment to meeting critical employment needs by upgrading the skills of the local workforce. The Critical Skills Shortage Initiative is filling this gap and the projected shortages in the health care field," DCEO Director Jack Lavin said. "Even during these tough budget times, we know the value of advancing worker skills and meeting these critical workforce demand. Gov. Blagojevich is going to continue making these crucial investments."
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) is administering the Southwest region’s Critical Skills Shortage Initiative (CSSI). Additionally, DCEO administers other workforce programs that might help in fulfilling regional needs, including the Employer Training Investment Program and the Eliminate the Digital Divide Program. The Southwest region includes Bond, Calhoun, Clinton, Jersey, Madison, Monroe, Randolph, St. Clair and Washington counties.
The Critical Skills Shortage Initiative combines the knowledge and resources of countless partners throughout these nine counties, including:
Workforce Investment Boards: Madison-Bond Workforce Investment Board, Mid America Workforce Investment Board and West Central Job Center Board
Health care partners: Anderson Hospital, Alton Memorial Hospital, Gateway Regional Medical Center, Jersey Community Hospital, Memorial Hospital Belleville, Memorial Hospital Chester, Red Bud Regional Hospital, Saint Anthony's Health Center, Saint Elizabeth's Hospital, Saint Joseph's Hospital, Sparta Community Hospital and Touchette/Kenneth Hall/Southern Illinois Healthcare
Educational Partners: Lewis and Clark Community College, Kaskaskia Community College and Southwestern Illinois College
Gov. Blagojevich’s Opportunity Returns regional economic development strategy is the most aggressive, comprehensive approach to creating jobs in Illinois’ history. Since a one-size-fits-all approach to economic development just doesn’t work, the Governor has divided the state into 10 regions – each with a regional team that is empowered and expected to rapidly respond to opportunities and challenges. Opportunity Returns is about tangible, specific actions to make each region more accessible, more marketable, more entrepreneurial and more attractive to businesses. It is about upgrading the skills of the local workforce, increasing the access to capital, opening new markets, improving infrastructure, and creating and retaining jobs. Opportunity Returns is about successfully partnering with companies and communities, both large and small, to help all of Illinois reach its economic potential.