This column encourages people to pursue careers in our health care sector. But first I need to say this:

Early in the pandemic many of us expressed our thanks for our health care workers who showed up every day, donning all the PPP and doing their jobs under stressful and scary circumstances. We called them heroes and were right to honor their dedication, professionalism, and service. To all of our health care workers: thank you. You are still heroes. With almost two years into this pandemic and facing what might be another big wave of hospitalizations, thank you for preparing yourselves to do this life-saving work. Thank you for showing up when you are exhausted. Thank you for your professionalism as you care for us. As your State Senator and on behalf of the people of Waldo County, thank you. I hope you can see how important your work is and how appreciated you are.

My passion for making sure we have plenty of good-paying (family-sustaining) jobs in the region and accessible educational opportunities for getting those jobs comes from 25 years of coaching and supporting adults to prepare for the work that sustains them. The need for good-paying career opportunities is also why I got involved in politics in the first place.

In Waldo County, health care is one of the largest sectors, with about 1,800 workers, just edging out retail and manufacturing. Health care is also projected to be our fastest-growing sector. According to the Department of Labor, employment in healthcare occupations is projected to grow 16 percent between 2020 and 2030, faster than the average for all occupations.

Each year, we’re going to need more and more health care workers to take care of our communities and be trained and ready to step up. That’s why the state of Maine has invested in expanding our health care services and health care workforce. This summer, through investing funds from the American Rescue Plan, we passed several measures to support and grow Maine’s health care workforce. First, we’re taking steps to increase the number of direct care workers with a statewide advertising campaign. The idea came from the long-term care commission to better attract and retain qualified individuals in these vital roles. We also raised MaineCare wage rates for direct care workers to 125 percent of minimum wage. Direct care workers provide quality, compassionate and personalized care for residents in their care. Paying our health care workers a fair, living wage matters because it recognizes the importance of their work, and it helps attract and retain folks to the ever-growing field. If you haven’t already considered a career in health care, please do so. We need you, and now might be the best time to pursue a new job in health care.

Many of these jobs require dedicated and focused training so that our providers can give the best quality care possible to Mainers. Programs like the Maine Health Professions Loan or the Doctors for Maine’s Future Scholarship program help make the reality of getting degrees in healthcare possible along with our new loan repayment program to help even more in paying off loans for healthcare providers. On top of these programs, there is legislation for the upcoming session to add $2.5 million to our community college system specifically for nursing.

Suppose you are ready to begin pursuing a career in health care. In that case, there are great resources fairly close, depending on where you live in Waldo County. Kennebec Valley Community College out of Fairfield and Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor, offer a broad range of health science degrees and certificates, including nursing, medical assisting, radiologic technology, and respiratory therapy. UMA in Augusta and Rockland provides degrees and certificates in nursing, substance use rehab, mental health and human services, and medical laboratory technician. You just need to call the school and ask to speak to an advisor to get started.

I recently spoke with Dr. Mark Foure, president of Coastal Health Care Alliance, which runs Waldo County General Hospital and Pen Bay Medical Center. I asked him how we could best support the health care workers. He asked me to remind everyone to be kind and patient. The system is stressed, and the workers are still our heroes, stepping up to do their jobs and save lives. Please reach out to any health care workers you know and thank them for their service. You can also help by getting vaccinated. Since the onset of Delta and now Omicron, the situation has changed. If you are hesitant about getting vaccinated or boosted, please reach out to your doctor as you consider what is best for you. While it is not the only solution, the vaccine can protect you and your loved ones and ensure our health care facilities are able to provide care for other sick and injured Mainers.

On Jan. 5, the second regular session of the 130th Legislature will begin. I look forward to getting back into the state house, meeting with my committee members and hearing legislative proposals. If you or someone you know needs assistance here in Waldo County, I hope you reach out to me. If you have questions or want to connect about legislation or a state agency, please reach out any time. My email is Chip.Curry@legislature.maine.gov, and my office phone number is 287-1515. You can find me on Facebook at facebook.com/SenatorCurry. You can also sign up to receive my regular e-newsletter at mainesenate.org.

Maine Sen. Chip Curry represents District 11, all Waldo County municipalities.

 

filed under: