Mass lawmakers are thinking of creating another health school to alleviate staff shortages

Earlier in the day, security guards drove in black SUVs across the empty UMass Amherst Mount Ida campus in Newton. Four years after the state-owned university acquired this major property, dozens of Adirondack chairs were left empty in the sun and 1,200 rooms were left empty.

“This campus has been alive since UMass Amherst took over,” state representative John Lawn said as he walked through the quartet.

When UMass Amherst bought the campus, administrators said it would take interns in the Boston area. Then the pandemic struck, diverting those plans.

Lawn sees a new life in this dead space as a training ground for the next generation of health care workers, including nurses and medical assistants. “There was a shortage before the pandemic, and we’ve seen a lot of health workers come out,” he said.

The global medical center in Massachusetts, like the rest of the country, is experiencing a huge shortage of health care professionals, with more than 20,000 full-time jobs in state hospitals.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated Baby Boomers ’retirement decisions. That’s why Lawn, representing Watertown, Newton and Waltham, has introduced a budget amendment that will allow UMass Amherst to open a new health care school on the former campus of Mount Ida College, which closed in 2018. Correction provided by Lawn. , Who heads the Joint Health Finance Committee, has already been approved by the House and is due to vote in the Senate this week.

“I think we are strategically positioned next to many of our hospital systems,” he reasoned.

If approved, UMass would enter a crowded market of Amherst health training programs, which already includes UMass schools in Boston, Bunker Hill and Roxbury communities, including Northeastern University and Emmanuel College. In March, in response to growing demand, Massachusetts General Hospital established a leadership school in health care.

The idea of ​​another health school in the Boston area has raised questions from local and national educators in the field. As Lawn suggests, they argue that the state’s current programs are “in the making,” even though most schools report that the number of applications they receive exceeds the available admission points.

Deborah Larson, President Association of Schools for Health Professions said Massachusetts should invest in existing programs and medical clinics where students receive hands-on training.

“There is a shortage at the moment, so I think people are thinking, ‘Oh, we’ll start a new program regardless of whether the field can support the program and the need for qualified teachers, which is probably just as critical. The limiting factor is the clinical point. whether or not, ”he said.

Some local health administrators and teachers agree.

A man in a green button-down shirt looks at the camera while sitting on the side of a hallway.
Eddie Miller, head of the gerontology department at UMass Boston, is housed inside the integrated science building on the Dorchester campus.

Kirk Carapezza / GBH News

“I don’t think it makes sense to start from scratch,” said Eddie Miller, head of gerontology at UMass Boston.

Sitting inside the integrated science building on the Dorchester campus, Miller said he was concerned that a health school on Mount Ida campus would compete with UMass Boston for students. When UMass Amherst bought Mount Ida, administrators promised that suburban campuses would not repeat programs offered at Boston’s only public research university.

With just over 100 students enrolled, Miller said, his UMass Boston program is out of capacity and, with more teachers, could easily expand.

“We have the infrastructure to help meet that need,” he said. “I think it requires more investment in excellence. I don’t think setting up a new school will necessarily get us where we need to be. We want to build what we already have.”

Looking at the empty buildings on the UMass Amherst Mount Ida campus, Representative John Lawn acknowledged that the shortage of health care teachers is a challenge, but that as the pandemic drags on the state could use another school in Newton.

“I would say we really need to expand and look,” he said. “I don’t know how we’re going to do it any other way.”

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