A connection forged last summer between a Missouri insurance provider and Ozarks Technical Community College has resulted in a financial investment that could annually reach $19,000. It comes on the heels of a $1 million donation to Jordan Valley Community Health Center.
Healthy Blue has agreed to fund scholarships for six students per semester to complete OTC’s community health care worker course. The scholarship is $1,595 per student and covers the cost of tuition and supplies.
Leigh Williams, director of the allied health program at OTC’s Center for Workforce Development, said the program is intended to meet an ongoing demand for community health care workers, adding applications for the Healthy Blue scholarships go through the OTC Foundation.
“We were tickled to death that they reached out because finally insurance companies are seeing the need,” she said, noting there’s no set timeline for how long the scholarships will be offered. “They saw that this could be a benefit to the patients they service.”
The course covers topics including hypertension, diabetes, mental health and lifestyle choices, according to OTC officials. Community health care workers assist individuals and communities with adopting healthy behaviors. They also may conduct outreach for medical personnel or health organizations to implement community programs that promote, maintain and improve health.
Healthy Blue President Jeff Davis said the provider is committed to addressing social drivers of health in the communities its members live and work.
“These issues continue to be barriers to positive health outcomes and overall wellness,” Davis said via email. “Healthy Blue remains focused on addressing these barriers through deep community relationships and developing real-time and impactful solutions that meet the needs of the local community.”
Healthy Blue is a part of Indianapolis-based Anthem Inc.’s government business division. The company in 2020 acquired the Missouri Care Inc. health plan of MO HealthNet, and the business name changed to Healthy Blue in January 2021.
The scholarships for OTC students are part of Healthy Blue’s wider financial investment, Davis said, adding it has funded $230,000 worth of health care scholarships across the state since last year. Additionally, Healthy Blue’s $1 million to Jordan Valley Community Health Center is helping fund a 50,000-square-foot clinic for women and children. Infill work on the clinic, which also includes $6.5 million in state funding, is ongoing at a former Price Cutter grocery store near the corner of Grand Street and Kansas Expressway.
Davis said the first phase of the project includes building out surgical rooms and preoperative and postoperative procedure rooms. It should be completed by this spring with phases two and three estimated for completion later this year.
“This donation and partnership with Jordan Valley will expand access to high-quality, affordable health care services for the community and increase the workforce through their training programs,” Davis said.
The community health care worker course at OTC launched in 2016 after the Springfield-Greene County Health Department reached out to gauge the school’s interest, Williams said. A key component was a $32,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The grant funds tuition for 20 students per school year, according to officials.
“We have been lucky enough to get a grant every year since then,” Williams said, noting it is annually renewable.
To be eligible for the program, a prospective student must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or equivalent. Students complete the 16-week course in one semester.
Williams said the course requires at least 100 hours of in-class instruction and 40-60 hours of clinical work.
Demand for community health care workers is expected to grow nationally by 21% between 2020 and 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median annual wage was $42,000 in May 2020, the most recent data available.
Jordan Valley and Fordland Clinic are among local providers who employ community health care workers, Williams said. Both clinics have current postings for the positions, according to their websites.
While no one applied for the Healthy Blue Scholarship this semester at OTC, Williams said 10 students enrolled for the program that started Jan. 19, and all are utilizing the DHS and CDC grant money.
“We typically fill those up pretty quickly. It’s all through word of mouth,” Williams said, adding she hopes for a similar response to the Healthy Blue scholarships as OTC promotes the financial aid opportunity.
She said there’s only been a couple of instances where students paid out of pocket for the course since its 2016 start.
“The only time a student would be out money is if they were not working, they didn’t qualify for any of the opportunities that we had for funding, and they still wanted to take the class,” she said. “They would then pay the tuition.”
The Healthy Blue scholarship application deadline for the fall 2022 semester is May 16, according to the OTC website.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May the all-items inflation index surged 8.6% over the past year, the highest increase since 1981.