Getty Images

How OCHIN Is Advancing Community Health Through Health IT Workforce Training

OCHIN recently received a $15M grant from the state of California to train 275 individuals to join the health IT workforce across community health centers.

While the healthcare provider shortage is a well-known reality, community health centers in California are being hit with a simultaneous lack of health IT personnel.

OCHIN, a nonprofit research and innovation network, recently conducted an analysis of its California member clinics and found that a lack of key operational staff is contributing to clinician burnout and impacting patient access to care across the safety net landscape.

According to OCHIN Epic satisfaction surveys, more than one in three providers reported feeling burned out following the COVID-19 pandemic, partly due to increased administrative and operational duties.

Meanwhile, a network analysis of member data revealed that patient encounters at OCHIN member clinics in California began rising in 2021. While this follows a decline in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, the analysis suggested that the decline increased patient need in 2021 as clinic staffing shrunk.

Based on these insights, OCHIN recognized that the current workforce was not sufficient to meet the growing demand for community care across the state.

"Health centers simply haven't been resourced or strategically thinking around what they need for the workforce of tomorrow," Jennifer Stoll, executive vice president of OCHIN, told EHRIntelligence in an interview. "It's hard when you have such razor-thin margins to ask, 'What do I need for the future?'"

A new $15 million workforce development grant from the California Department of Health Care Access (HCAI) aims to change that.

Through the four-year grant, OCHIN will train 275 learners in one of three key health IT fields: medical billing and coding, health information management, and EHR analysis.

Participants who complete the training programs will receive national certifications designed to build on eachother, starting with medical building and coding, health information management, and then EHR specialists.

"Learners will take tests to become nationally certified, which is a golden ticket to help break the cycle of poverty in many of our communities," Stoll said.

Then, participants will be placed as apprentices within the OCHIN network for on-the-job learning. Through the grant, OCHIN will be able to pay each participant $20 an hour plus a stipend for health benefits.

The stipend reduces economic barriers to training by allowing individuals to learn on the job while getting paid. That’s a win-win, because they will also be helping resource-constrained health centers by providing them with operational staff, Stoll said.

The initiative seeks to meet communities where they are by not requiring a college degree. 

"Our goal is also to make sure that these jobs are not out of reach for non-traditional learners and people can see themselves in these roles based on the communities that we support," she said.

"Going to college is not a pathway for many in this country, and we've got to think differently about how we approach and build our talent for tomorrow," Stoll emphasized. "Otherwise, we're going to leave swaths of the country behind."

The training program will also be virtual, which Stoll said will help expand opportunities for workforce development across communities, urban and rural alike

"We believe in the virtual model strongly because it creates opportunities where they weren't before," she noted.

"This is a perfect use case for why broadband is so critical," she said. "Broadband is infrastructure. We've got to keep it to create new learning opportunities for tomorrow."

While the training is virtual, Stoll noted that OCHIN will support participants through the program. The training will also be available in multiple languages.

"We want to help our members reach their communities where they are, have a more representative workforce, and create ladders for the future," Stoll said. "That's what these positions will do."

"We have to create consistent pipelines because, in the health center world, we have turnover," she continued. "That's the way the world works. But if we train communities and provide certifications for the future, the whole community benefits."

Stoll noted that health equity is the north star for OCHIN as it embarks on the project.

"We need a trained workforce to support the patients our members serve, which are arguably some of the most medically and socially complex patients," she emphasized.

"When you do not have enough of these operational folks in your system, you don't have enough revenue to drive your mission, or you are not understanding population health well enough to meet the needs of your community, or you don't have enough frontline people to manage EHR operations," Stoll said.

OCHIN and HCAI will partner with network members, other California health center networks, and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to recruit participants.

"We have onsite recruiters that have deep expertise in reaching some of the most hard-to-reach and diverse populations," she said.

Next Steps

Dig Deeper on Interoperability in healthcare

Cloud Computing
Mobile Computing