It may not surprise you that recruiting a qualified workforce in Forks, WA is challenging. What is surprising is the grassroots innovation that continues in the most rural reaches of the Olympic region. “There’s not a lot of good paying jobs in Forks for those without education,” says Forks Community Hospital CEO Heidi Anderson, “we want to make our community healthier, and we are doing that small bits at a time.”
Across Washington state, and specifically the Olympic region, health-serving workforce shortages pose critical barriers to providing quality and timely services for communities. Forks Community Hospital combats this challenge with its innovative Grow Your Own program, an employee centered and community-driven approach to building workforce capacity.
The idea started in 2001 to address workforce challenges and was focused on imaging technicians. With continuing examples of success, the program continues to grow today.
There are three initiatives under Forks’ Grow Your Own Program:
the medical assistant apprenticeship which has graduated 1 individual, with 3 more currently enrolled and 3 more internal candidates to begin soon,
the emergency medical technician (EMT) which just graduated an additional 9 EMTs,
and certified nursing assistant course.
Additionally, Forks Community Hospital offers employee education programs for those employed over 1 year to cover higher education related costs such as books and tuition reimbursement. They also offer opportunities for paid work experience while employees pursue obtaining necessary clinical hours. And, they welcome opportunities to host students and residents and show them what rural medicine is all about, “when we get the nursing students we love them. It does slow down the routine but in the end someone might fall in love with the rural area and stay” says Heidi Anderson.
A compelling example of the program’s success can be found in the CEO. Heidi Anderson started her career at Forks Community Hospital over 30 years ago as a nurse's aide. She then continued her education while working, becoming an LPN and then RN. “I tried it and loved it,” says Anderson who then went on to become the CNO of Forks Community Hospital before starting a Master’s program and becoming the CEO in 2020. When asked why she started working at the hospital in the first place she shared, “it allowed me to stay in the community.”
Experiencing the positive impact of the program firsthand gives Anderson a deep appreciation for the importance of building up the community and creating low barrier ways to enter the workforce. Next the hospital plans to reinvigorate K-12 outreach in the community and restart high school job shadow opportunities. “People can understand healthcare has good jobs and isn’t going anywhere, and it allows you to stay in the community,” says Anderson. The hospital also hopes to increase low barrier and cost-effective education options for folks on the West End like remote learning and more on-site courses at the Forks community-college campus.
When asked how others can replicate the successes of the Grow Your Own program Anderson shared a process in place to bring students in and willing department heads are key to success. “I think the staff enjoy it,” she says, “it’s a family.”
OCH is inspired by the innovation and creativity happening in Forks.