ECHC is an extension of the Health Profession Opportunity Grants program administered by Buffalo & Erie County Workforce Investment Board
√ Popular program provides training, support services for qualified Erie County residents in pursuit of high-demand health care positions
In an effort to confront the COVID-19 pandemic, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is dedicating an additional $1.35 million in funding for the Erie County Healthcare Careers (ECHC) program, which provides qualifies Erie County residents with free training and support services for high-demand health care positions. Formerly known as the Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG), this successful program had been funded through federal grants. When it was discontinued in the last federal budget, Poloncarz stepped in initially with $1.6 million of supporting county funding prior to this further augmentation, bringing the total county commitment to nearly $3 million.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has put great strains on our health care facilities, and the need for more staff is critical,” Poloncarz said. “Investments in our health care workforce create a more resilient and ready community that is better able to respond to crises. I thank the legislature for approving this funding. It will aid greatly in getting more health care workers trained and ready to step into the field as soon as possible. This funding will directly improve the quality and availability of health care in our community.”
Since taking over funding of the program, the Workforce Investment Board has seen significant ongoing demand. While 110 individuals were enrolled for the licensed practical nurse program and more are enrolled for the upcoming registered nursing program, there is demand for an additional 250 slots.
Poloncarz’s team said, “Given the significant ongoing health care staffing crisis in Erie County and Western New York, expanding this program makes sense from both and economic and healthcare perspectives.”
The ECHC program, in alignment with Live Well Erie initiatives designed to promote workforce development, prepares Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients, low-income individuals and working- or middle-class county residents with the training and supports they need to enter the field or upgrade skills and proficiencies they may already have as they move along a career path – for example, from CNA to LPN, or CNA to RN, or LPN to RN. Individuals earning $25 an hour or less, or $52,000 or less annually, may qualify for financial support through the ECHC program.
Training for these positions takes anywhere from seven weeks to two years, depending on the position the student is pursuing. During training and in the first month on the job, the ECHC program provides students with assistance with transportation, child care and emergencies such as car repairs, insurance payments, housing, tutoring and obtaining a driver’s license. Training partners for the various positions include D’Youville College, Erie 1 BOCES, Trocaire College, Villa Maria College, SUNY Buffalo and SUNY Erie.
The ECHC program maintains a focus on training for higher-level jobs that bring with them more livable wages. Training for jobs in the $20-per-hour or above range, such as LPN, RN, surgical technologist, medical lab technician, respiratory therapist and physical therapy assistant, are in this category.
Buffalo and Erie County Workforce Investment Board Executive Director Geoffrey Szymanski said, “Health care needs continue to grow, and we are seeing corresponding growth in the number of individuals interested in working in the field. The Erie County Healthcare Careers program has a number of paths for them to follow, and assists employers as well by matching these potential employees to their needs. Thanks to County Executive Poloncarz and the legislature, more people will be able to get on these health care career paths.”
Of the students who successfully completed the HPOG Buffalo program between 2010-18 and gained employment, 90% were unemployed when they entered the program, 70% were heads of households, and 55% had dependent children. Moreover, 25% of this group also received TANF support, while 55% were Medicaid eligible and 60% were enrolled in Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Programs (SNAP). During this same period, graduates of the HPOG program generated $90.2 million in wages for themselves and paid $2.73 million in state income taxes, leading to a 45% reduction in TANF benefit costs. The return on this investment to Buffalo and Erie County is 11:1.
HPOG Buffalo, the precursor to the current program, was created in 2010 as a partnership between the Buffalo and Erie County Workforce Investment Board, the Erie County Department of Social Services, area health care employers, local schools, the New York State Department of Labor, and 1199 SEIU. From its inception, HPOG Buffalo has operated with approximately $13.7 million in support from the Administration of Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, helping to fill more than 1,400 career-oriented jobs in hospitals, long-term-care facilities, home health care settings and pharmacies.