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Pictured, from left, are (seated) are: Kelly Waggoner, Howell County Clerk, Calvin Wood, Howell County Northern Commissioner, Mark Collins, and Howell County Presiding Commissioner. Pictured from left to right (standing) are: Misty Hathcock, SCCC Surgery Tech Coordinator, Becky Wernsing, SCCC Practical Nursing Coordinator/Instructor, Joy Holloway, SCCC Coordinator of Student Services, Dr. Dennis Lancaster, MSU-WP Chancellor, and Josh Reeves, Vice President of Development and Advocacy at Ozarks Healthcare

As healthcare workforce shortages continue to be an issue nationwide and locally, the Howell County Commission has announced its funding of a partnership between Ozarks Healthcare, the South Central Career Center (SCCC), and Missouri State University-West Plains (MSU-WP) to create a healthcare workforce development consortium that will increase sustainability of healthcare careers and recruit more students to professions in healthcare that exist in the community.
The consortium will be funded by the Howell County Commission through American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding in the amount of $380,000 received during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ozarks Healthcare Foundation.
ARPA funds were issued by the federal government to provide additional financial relief in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 at the state and local level. One of the purposes ARPA funds may be used for include response to negative economic impacts, including job training for industries such as healthcare that have suffered employee shortages.
“The Howell County Commission is excited to work with Ozarks Healthcare, the South Central Career Center, and Missouri State University-West Plains, to fulfill a need for a larger and stronger local healthcare workforce,” Mark Collins, Howell County Presiding Commissioner, said. “Through funding this consortium, we will be helping meet the healthcare needs of our community and generations of community members to come.”
The Howell County Commission’s funding for the consortium will also create a job opportunity for a career pathways coordinator. The coordinator will work with local school districts and consortium members to guide students who are interested in healthcare careers.
“Healthcare workforce shortages are one of the main threats to providing quality care in rural Missouri,” Tom Keller, Ozarks Healthcare President and CEO, said. “We are extremely grateful for the focus the Howell County Commission has put on helping our local health system and community partners replenish and grow the healthcare workforce. Because of the investments of the Howell
County Commission, we will be better able to continue caring for our community’s wellbeing and create and fill more local healthcare job opportunities through this consortium.”
Each partnering organization involved in the consortium will help meet the overall goal of building the local healthcare workforce. Ozarks Healthcare will provide tuition reimbursements and scholarships with a work commitment. Scholarships will be funded through the Ozarks Healthcare Foundation.
“Our Foundation is here to support our health system and our patients,” Josh Reeves, Vice President of Development and Advocacy at Ozarks Healthcare, said. “Ensuring a strong frontline of caregivers is a part of that mission. In the state of Missouri, there are currently 36,479 full-time nursing and nursing assistant positions vacant. Given current rates, Ozarks Healthcare will need to fill over 150 registered nurse (RN) and 70 licensed practical nurse (LPN) positions over the next three years. By increasing ongoing financial support for students in the healthcare field and opportunities for gaining training locally, our Foundation will be contributing towards the medical care of families and friends within our community.”
MSU-WP will focus on increasing capacity in its nursing program.
“Our nursing program enrollment is now at the highest limit established by our accrediting agency,” Dr. Dennis Lancaster, MSU-WP Chancellor, said. “That’s why Missouri State-West Plains plans to soon seek approval to raise that limit in order to meet the demand for registered nurses in our area. Having a partnership with Ozarks Healthcare and the South Central Career Center will mean that a concerted community effort can focus on not just getting more students through our programs but, more importantly, increasing the quality of health care throughout the region. We thank the Howell County Commission for their assistance and great vision in helping make this partnership a reality.”
The SCCC will focus on a younger generation of those composing the future of the healthcare field by providing early healthcare education to high school students and certificate programs that cater to non-traditional students. The SCCC will also take a proactive role in sharing the diversity of the healthcare field to students.
“Through the Nursing Early Admissions Track and by partnering with thirteen area high schools, the South Central Career Center will be able to train the next generation of practical nurses for earlier entry into the field,” Josh Cotter, SCCC Director, said. “This program will reduce the amount of time from post-high school graduation to program completion from approximately 22 months to only eight months. We could not have done this without the partnership of Ozarks Healthcare, Missouri State University-West Plains, and the support of Senator Eslinger and Governor Parson.”
For the duration of the year, consortium members will focus heavily on introducing the initiative and recruiting students at local education institutions. In January of 2023, the consortium anticipates welcoming its first cohort of students.
Updates will be shared as the consortium progresses. Community members are encouraged to watch all three consortium partners’ social media and websites for more information.

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