Four institutions have joined forces to train health care professionals for the region.
Under the agreement, Cox College, which has educated students in health sciences since it was founded in 1907 as the Burge Deaconess Training School for Nurses, will be replaced by the Alliance for Healthcare Education, a partnership between CoxHealth, Missouri State University, Ozarks Technical Community College and Springfield Public Schools, according to a news release.
The alliance is intended to meet the region’s health care workforce needs, and in an interview prior to this morning’s public announcement, its leaders said it would be the largest producer of health sciences professionals in the Midwest and improve access to training opportunities while boosting affordability.
Alliance for Healthcare Education leaders Max Buetow, president and CEO of CoxHealth; Clif Smart, president of MSU; Hal Higdon, chancellor of OTC; and Grenita Lathan, superintendent of SPS; planned a joint news conference to unveil the plans this morning at 8:30 a.m. at Cox College.
“By refining and simplifying these educational pathways, our community’s medical providers will have access to a larger pool of well-qualified professionals capable of fulfilling vital roles from administration to the operating room,” officials said in a statement released prior to the news conference.
The nonprofits leaders said the collaboration will increase the number of students currently receiving health care education in the region.
Cox College will be fully integrated into the alliance, the announcement states, though current Cox College students will be able to complete their programs. Pending approval of the Higher Learning Commission and other accrediting agencies, Cox College will transition its bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs to MSU and its associate programs to OTC.
Additionally, OTC and SPS will establish health education programs for high school juniors and seniors, who will be able to simultaneously complete their high school diploma while earning an associate degree.
In an interview before the public announcement, Higdon said the Alliance for Healthcare Education will kick off with an expansion of its Middle College with SPS students in 2024.
“The superintendent and I have been wanting to do more Middle College, and we will actually start a year early with SPS in '24 on our campus here to begin a health care expansion, and then we will take over those programs that are appropriate for a community college as associate degree programs,” he said.
Smart said Cox College will teach out its current students, a process that will take two to three years. Beyond that, four-year and graduate programs will transition to MSU.
“As that transition rolls out, the goal is to grow all of the programs,” he said prior to the announcement.
Smart said there are 825 students currently enrolled in nursing programs.
“The goal, as we become the provider for the four-year nursing programs and beyond in our region, [is] that that number grow to a thousand and then 1,200 and then 1,500 over time,” he said.
He added that the alliance leaders envision other hospital providers coming into the mix over time, and they also envision an expansion past SPS to include other high schools.
“We envision most, if not all, of the high schools in our region coming into the mix, because the goal is to provide more graduates in this critical area,” he said.
The 2023 Workforce Report by the Missouri Hospital Association noted a 17.4% registered nurse vacancy rate in the state, with a 16.7% vacancy rate in the Ozark region, which includes Greene County.
Buetow noted the alliance will serve existing health care workers in addition to new students.
“We have a lot of folks that are at a ceiling in where their careers are that need a partner within our health care systems to make sure they don’t remain underemployed going forward,” he said.
Cox College faculty and staff will be given priority in hiring as they wind down their teaching obligations in the present program, according to Smart and Higdon.
Cox College was renovated and expanded six years ago at a cost of $6.8 million.
“This isn’t a ‘Cox College is going away,’” Buetow said. “It’s a ‘Cox College is being incorporated into a broader infrastructure that allows all of us to come together and to maximize the strength of all the entities combined.’”
The alliance will continue to use the 70,000-square-foot Cox College space at 1423 N. Jefferson Ave. for health care programming.
“We’re using a legacy hospital to teach the future of health care providers in this community, and it’s also a great way to reinvigorate and reinvest in the north side of Springfield,” Buetow said.
The alliance will operate as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit corporation owned by the four leaders of the partner institutions. It will be administered by a governing board made up of the CEOs of each of the entities, plus a fifth community member to be chosen by the other members. Day-to-day decisions will be the responsibility of an operations council of representatives from the four institutions.
More information about the alliance will be released as details are ironed out, officials say.
Join us on the third Tuesday of each month for a live interview with one of 12 local professionals handpicked by our editorial team.