Nov 10

The Woodlands becoming health care hub

by Wendy Cawthon, Jocelyn Kerr and Abigail Loop

This article originally appeared in Community Impact Newspaper

As Houston’s economy continues to recover from the oil and gas downturn, the health care job market in Greater Houston area, including The Woodlands, has proven to be resilient as the area population and demand for services continue to rise.

In December 2015, the Greater Houston Partnership’s annual employment forecast predicted around 9,000 health care jobs would be added during 2016, said Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research at GHP.

"So far [from January to August], we created 7,200 jobs [in the health care industry], so the numbers seem to be on track,” he said.

Job market shift

The University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business reports the region lost nearly 25,000 oil production and services jobs and over 29,000 manufacturing jobs from December 2014 to July 2016. Hospital officials say these losses could explain why many workers are now moving to work in the health care industry.

"Memorial Hermann is seeing more people seeking employment in health care,” said Tanya Cook, vice president of talent acquisition and premier staffing for Memorial Hermann Health System. "That’s due largely to the downturn in [the] oil and energy business. While our primary need is for health care clinicians, we are always looking for talented people for nonclinical jobs, such as accounting and finance, and information and technology.”

Nearly one in nine jobholders in the Greater Houston area work in the health care industry, according to the GHP.

Jankowski said two factors most contribute to the growth in health care jobs: the natural population increase from babies born in the area and an aging population. He said about 30,000 residents turn 65 years old each year.

Houston, local markets

Hospital officials and market experts agree the population increase is driving much of the market growth, steering it away from downtown Houston toward the suburbs.

Although the Texas Medical Center is still one of the largest employers for health care workers, large hospital systems are also looking beyond Loop 610 for new facility locations, Jankowski said.

"You’ve seen with health care—whether it’s the hospitals or urgent care centers or patient care centers—migrating to the suburbs,” he said. "They’re trying to put their facilities as close to people as possible.”

Josh Urban, senior vice president and CEO of Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital, said The Woodlands is becoming the medical center of North Houston, and Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital is continuing to grow to meet the needs of residents.

"The facility is growing, and there has been quite a lot of population growth in The Woodlands,” Urban said. "It’s becoming a major medical center with the community’s desire for high-quality care close to home.”

Urban said the hospital has a variety of expansions and renovations that are underway or soon starting. In the past year, 57 more beds were added to the hospital’s east tower; the hospital also is  in the middle of an expansion and renovation of the emergency room that is set to be finished in early 2017.  The hospital will also add on a six-story medical office building that is set to be completed in April.

"We also are growing our physician staff from about 75 to 100 new staff members every year,” he said. "The Woodlands is a great place to live, and we keep recruiting as we advance.”

Dr. Syad Raza, chief medical officer at CHI St. Luke’s Health-The Woodlands Hospital, said the hospital has also expanded its services to give residents in the suburbs quality medical care as the population grows.

"I used to work downtown, and the general consensus was that the hospital in [The Woodlands] was going to be a feeder hospital,” Raza said. "But people started realizing you can get exceptional service here.”

Raza said the hospital started with about 100 physicians and is now close to 700 doctors. Raza said the increase in staff comes from the atmosphere of The Woodlands community.

"We want to also focus on more outpatient and primary care centers,” he said. "Our goal is to have as many touchpoints for patients in the community that we need. Our biggest issue is making health delivery more efficient for patients.”

Debbie Sukin, CEO of Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital, said the new facility was also established to cater to more suburban families and provide easier health care access.

"More people are choosing to raise their families in suburban areas,” Sukin said. "Population growth outside the traditional city boundaries is driving the infrastructure needs in our suburbs. Hospitals must meet the current needs of the community and proactively plan for the expectations of the future.”

Education opportunities

Keeping in line with demand, local higher education providers are expanding health care education offerings to prepare students to enter the workforce. 

Statewide, the demand for nurses has grown due to population increases, according to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.   

Lone Star College System’s nursing program is the largest program offered by LSCS,said Linda Luehrs-Wolfe, LSC-Kingwood dean of sciences and health occupations.

"[Program] offerings are determined by several factors—including availability of jobs—which continues to grow for nursing,” Luehrs-Wolfe said. "We develop our programsin [conjunction] with the various health care providers in the region to ensure they are able to hire awell-trained workforce.”

Some health care degree programs are now at capacity, Luehrs-Wolfe said, prompting LCSC to plan for larger facilities, including a third floor on LSC-Tomball’s health science building and a new health care instructional building at LSC-Kingwood, both planned as part of the college system’s $485 million  bond package approved by voters in 2014.

Additionally, a LSCS four-year degree program could also be on the horizon for students interested in nursing, said Amos McDonald, LSC vice chancellor of external affairs.

"Lone Star College is working with the Texas Legislature to allow it to offer baccalaureate degrees in nursing,” McDonald said. "There is a demand for health care workers, and allowing Lone Star College to offer four-year degrees in this field will help ensure our community has the ‘people power’ to keep up with the need.”

Future growth

Regardless of when the economy completely recovers, Jankowski said growth in the health care market will likely continue as the population increases.

"Houston had just shy of 100,000 babies born [in 2016],” Jankowski said. "If you subtract the deaths from the births, you get what’s called the ‘natural increase’ of 65,000.”

Factored into the net population growth of 10.9 percent and 18 percent over the past five years for Harris and Montgomery counties, respectively, the area will continue to see a need for more health care services in the years to come, according to the GHP.

"As long as mankind is around, health care will be a strong field,” Jankowski said.

This article originally appeared in Community Impact Newspaper


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