Not so long ago, Faribault High School students needed to wait until college to start pursuing a degree and career in the health sciences.
That changes this fall with the implementation of a program called H2C: High School to College and Career, which allows high schoolers to take health science courses at FHS and South Central College. Students can earn up to 36 college credits while completing their high school education, potentially saving over $6,000 in college tuition by doing so.
H2C courses will expose students to six different college and career areas of health sciences: practical nursing (LPN), nursing assistant (CNA or HHA), trained medication aide (TMA), medical assisting (MA), phlebotomy and health unit coordinator. Students can complete the first two to three semesters of a health science program and they may even earn certifications as they gain experiences at local health care facilities. Registration for these classes, exclusive to FHS students, begins this week.
“Part of this is really the awareness and understanding of what these jobs are, the opportunities, and what it’s like to work in a healthcare facility,” said SCC President Annette Parker. “After the virus, I think it’s important to start preparing more people in this discipline. It’s a great time to get them to start thinking about the health sciences.”
To lift the H2C program off the ground, Parker said FHS, SCC and the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce formed a vision committee a couple years ago. These entities joined forces with around 50 individuals from the private and public sector. Medical facilities involved include Allina Health Faribault District One, Owatonna Hospital and Mayo Clinic Health System-Owatonna and Faribault.
During a virtual announcement of the program on Friday, David Albrecht, president of the Allina Health Senior Leadership Team, said, “I think from the Allina Health standpoint, we’re on the beneficiary side.”
Albrecht explained that H2C could make up for a shortage of medical professionals, and that combining forces with the Vision Committee has given power and strength to the program. Although there are privacy constraints when students intersect with a medical facility, he said Allina Health is committed to providing accommodations and build H2C curriculum.
Marsha Danielson, SCC vice president of Economic Development, added that H2C will ensure more people of color enter healthcare programs by reducing the cost of completing the program and offering experiences than help students as a whole develop confidence in the work field.
Nursing ranks third as the highest demand profession in the U.S., according to a recent NurseJournal publication, which attributes the aging of the baby boomer generation and the overall population growth to the increase in nursing job openings. According to a chart included in the article from the Bureau of Health Workforce Database, Minnesota is ranked 44 out of 51 (with Washington, D.C. included) in terms of the highest nurse to state population ratios with 15.78 nurses per 1,000 residents. Nationally, the ratio is 12.06 per 1,000 residents.
A student interest
Student interest has largely influenced education and community leaders to develop the health sciences pathway program. In developing new course options for the seven-period day, reinstituted at at FHS this past fall, educators have gauged a high demand for health science courses.
FHS Superintendent Todd Sesker said during Friday’s announcement that H2C wouldn’t be possible without FHS’s seven-period day. The voter-approved 2019 operating levy has afforded students eight more elective classes to take throughout their high school careers. This year, students could choose from 26 more classes than the 2019-20 school year.
“Really it starts with the students,” Parker said. “They’ll do some exploratory health science careers in the ninth grade, and then they can formally enter the H2C pathway in 10th, 11th and 12th grade … We already have kids in ninth grade doing exploratory work, so those students can already start in the fall.”
Parker explained that students benefit from taking the exploratory health science classes even if they decide to pursue the H2C pathway after their freshman year. No matter the grade a student starts their pathway, the exploratory courses help students decide if H2C is right for them.
Pathway programs aren’t new to Faribault High School, where students considering possible careers in fields like business and education may enroll in classes in these areas. Pathway courses give students firsthand experiences that help them decide whether or not they want to pursue a career in that industry. The idea is to help students save both time and money by giving them these opportunities early, at a high school level.
To involve students in the programs’ development, Parker said the Vision Committee invited FHS students to select the name for the program, which is based off the P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) program developed by IBM.
“The research around the model has been very successful around the country,” Parker said. “Ours is a little different. We made some improvements relevant to our district in southern Minnesota, and so that’s why we went through a naming process.”
While SCC is looking to roll out the H2C program in other areas in the future, Parker said the strong partnership with FHS and the Chamber of Commerce made Faribault the ideal starting point.
“It’s going to lead to more opportunities for the students,” said Faribault Chamber CEO and President Nort Johnson. “Our main partners are aware of that and really excited.”
Said Parker, concluding Friday’s announcement: “I’m just proud to be here in Faribault today and make this announcement that Faribault is the first. Faribault is where it started.”
Generally, Three Rivers’ Meals on Wheels program provides meals to clients over the age of 60, who are homebound and live within cities of Cannon Falls, Faribault, Goodhue, Mazeppa, Pine Island, Wabasha, Wanamingo and Zumbrota.
Since the pandemic, Three Rivers Older Adult Services Coordinator Carla Pearson said there has been a 35% increase in clients interested in receiving meals delivered to their home five times a week. Faribault’s seven routes, which are usually half full, increased to eight routes, which are now almost full. Despite the increase in interest, Pearson said they are always able to accept new clients.
“The great thing about the program is we not only service clients, we also service their caregivers,” said Pearson. “For example, if there’s an older adult woman caring for a homebound client, we will service her as well to take the edge off her duties in caregiving. We want to support the caregiver as much as the adult client.”
Along with the increase in needed meals, volunteer interest has also increased in some of the areas. Pearson speculates that since people have been furloughed and some aren’t working, volunteers’ interests has been apparent.
Pearson said volunteers were provided cloth masks early on in the pandemic and the meal caterer offers gloves to those who want them. Volunteers are also encouraged not to have person-to-person contact when delivering the meals and rather just a knock on the door, announce themselves and place the meals right inside the door.
After the start of COVID-19, the program also ramped up its service by offering a second cold meal to be delivered at the time of the hot meal with the idea that the hot meal is for lunch and cold meal would be eaten for supper. At the start of the secondary meal delivery in May, Pearson said about 50% of clients showed interest. Since then, some clients have felt as if they were getting too much food and dropped the cold meal, reducing interest to 20%.
Meals for those in the Faribault area are prepared at the Buckham West Senior Center. Three Rivers contracts/partners with the food vendor SEMCAC, a community action agency in the southeastern Minnesota region.
In Faribault, SEMCAC staff member Curt Becher says the volunteers are caring people and are considerate of the clients they serve, even relaying concerns if someone on their route didn’t answer that day, asking Pearson to check in on them. Together, Becher works with head cook Jackie Bolster and Janine Sahagian to prepare and process the meals. Becher is in charge of taking the orders and processing them, as there are two different menus, one for diabetics. The meals are packaged up according to the routes provided by Pearson. Typically, Becher says there are between six and nine clients on each route.
Volunteers pick up the meals by 11 a.m. and are back to the facility by noon.
“The Meals on Wheels program wouldn’t exist with the drivers, they are very important to the program,” said Becher, now in his second year with SEMCAC. “They are all good people and volunteer their time, vehicle and gas.”
Impressed with the number of volunteers who continued to deliver after the pandemic started, Bolster said he’s heard from many of the drivers that they enjoy being able to see the clients and develop relationships with them. Despite the inclement weather they must drive through some days, some have been delivering meals for 20 years, said Bolster.
A desperate need for help
Though volunteer interest has increased in some areas, that’s not universally true. Specifically in Wanamingo, Pearson said there is an “amazing” volunteer shortage.
“It has really threatened the sustainability of our program to continue in Wanamingo,” said Pearson. “It’s gotten to the point where we have staff of our own using their own time delivering because we just can’t get volunteers from Wanamingo.”
After being in crisis for over a year, Pearson said the possibility of discontinuing the program to that area has been discussed, though that is something they would rather not do.
“We need the community to step forward and support us,” said Pearson.
Wanamingo has one route for meal delivery and the meals for that route are dropped off to Heritage Hills and delivered to those in city limits. A financial stipend is even offered for volunteers who can deliver meals from Zumbrota Towers, where meals are prepared, to Heritage Hills, something Pearson said is “unheard of” with the Meals on Wheels program.
“That’s how desperate we are,” added Pearson.
Drivers needs to be dependable and available to deliver meals from 11 to 11:45 a.m. Pearson said staff have a good level of communication with volunteers, being sure to let them know way ahead of time when they’re down for a route. Those interested can determine which days work best for them, but need to have car insurance and a clean record, clear of predatory offenses.
Given the increase in the interest the program and the fact they are offering two meals a day, Pearson said they have secured additional COVID-related funding. It has also been difficult when it comes to purchase the food used for the meals, as prices have increased, especially on proteins. Suggested donations for meal recipients remain the same: for those over 60 it’s $4.50/meal and $7 a meal for those under 60.
“That’s been really tough to fund since we’re spending more on food, but our price remains the same,” said Pearson. “That’s been a financial hardship with the price of food up and trouble getting the product as well as meal related products. We don’t use a lot of paper products. We are environmentally savvy and use trays that we sanitize.”