Study confirms Wabash Valley health care worker shortage

By: ISU Communications and Marketing Staff, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
April 1, 2010

A study commissioned by Indiana State University's College of Nursing, Health, and Human Services has found shortages in almost every health care field in the Wabash Valley.

Nurses and physicians top the list of shortage areas. The survey found a need for 702 to 827 additional nurses and 134 to 275 primary care physicians in an 11-county area of west-central Indiana.

Significant shortages were also found in mental health counselors, physical therapists, pharmacists, social workers, health educators, speech pathologists, physician assistants and psychologists. In more than three-fourths of the professions analyzed, the study projects that by 2016 the number of health care providers per 100,000 residents will be lower in the Wabash Valley than statewide.

The study also found a need for increased access to educational programs, expanding existing programs and making new programs available.

"This survey shows that not only is Indiana State on the right track in planning additional programs and realigning existing ones within the College of Nursing, Health, and Human Services, but that the vision of the Rural Health Innovation Collaborative also must become a reality if we are to adequately meet the health care demands of our state and region," said Richard "Biff" Williams, dean of the college.

The collaborative is a partnership involving Indiana State, Indiana University, Ivy Tech Community College, Union Hospital and its Richard G. Lugar Center for Rural Health, the city of Terre Haute and Terre Haute Economic Development Corp. Launched in 2008, the collaborative is working to expand Terre Haute's reputation as a center for innovative health care delivery methods to meet the unique demands of rural areas.

The efforts recently received a boost when the Terre Haute Innovation Alliance received funding to conduct a feasibility study of a rural health business incubator.

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education has approved new ISU doctoral programs in nursing practice and physical therapy and a new Master of Science degree in physician assistant studies. Less than two months after the programs had been approved, the college had already received 175 inquiries from prospective students about the physical therapy program and 225 about the physician assistant program, Williams said.

ISU is also examining the feasibility of offering other programs to address additional shortages. The programs being considered include a doctorate in health science and a master's degree in social work, along with an accelerated second degree nursing option and a pharmacy program.

In addition, programs in social work, food and nutrition, human development and family consumer sciences are moving from the College of Arts and Sciences to Nursing, Health, and Human Services to better align the university's health profession education efforts.

These are the latest in a series of initiatives ISU and its partner institutions have taken to address the shortage of healthcare workers.

The first graduates of Indiana State's Rural Health Scholars Program are now serving as primary care physicians in small towns around the state. The program, begun in 1998, provides full tuition waivers to pre-medicine students who agree to practice in rural Indiana. It is geared toward the unique medical needs of rural residents. The IU School of Medicine in Terre Haute, housed on the ISU campus, recently expanded from a two-year program to four years and also focuses on rural medicine.

Ivy Tech Community College's Wabash Valley campus offers associate degrees in nursing and partners with ISU on a program allowing licensed practical nurses to pursue a Bachelor of Science in nursing with the flexibility of completing the degree via distance education.

"We are committed to not only continuing these and other successful programs but also to identifying other needs, and working with our partner institutions to develop ways of meeting healthcare workforce shortages in the area," Williams said.

The Bowen Research Center at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis conducted the study of the 11 west-central Indiana and two Illinois counties. Researchers examined licensing and workforce data for 36 types of health professionals, surveyed attendees at a 2009 workforce summit organized by ISU and the West Central Indiana Area Health Education Center and interviewed area employers, business and community leaders and educators. AHEC funded the study.

"Area Health Education Centers strive to alleviate the shortage of primary health care providers in underserved areas. To do that, we need data on which professionals are in short supply and where the shortages exist," said Louise Anderson, director of West Central Indiana AHEC, which serves Clay, Fountain, Greene, Montgomery, Owen, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan, Vermillion, Vigo and Warren counties.

More information: West Central Indiana Area Health Education Center

Contact: Richard "Biff" Williams, dean, College of Nursing, Health, and Human Services, Indiana State University, 812-237-3683 or biff.williams@indstate.edu.

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or dave.taylor@indstate.edu.