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Working Off the Ranch: Healthcare Jobs Provide An Answer

Working Off the Ranch: Healthcare Jobs Provide An Answer

1/11/2018 9:54:00 PM/Categories: Original, Today's Top 5, People in Ag

Healthcare Workers Needed in Rural Montana

Great Falls - In rural communities across Montana, there is an increasingly urgent need for medical workers. Montana has one of the oldest populations in the nation and the need for trained healthcare workers to serve this aging population is increasing rapidly.

Kaye Norris director of the HealthCARE Montana program says, “In the last year alone, 2,150 healthcare jobs were added across the state of Montana. Over the last 5 years, roughly 7,300 healthcare jobs have been added. And the projection is that over the next ten years, every year annually there will be about 1,300 new jobs.”

The need is particularly acute in remote parts of Montana where it is nearly impossible to recruit skilled workers that do not have existing ties to these small communities primarily rooted in an agricultural economy. It is equally challenging for ranching families to travel hundreds of miles for healthcare when their family and livelihood is tied to their land.

Deanna Hastings, nursing faculty at Great Falls College shares, “Being married to a rancher I can say, they are stubborn in a way. It is not easy to leave the farm or ranch and go to town. When you are taking care of cows and shipping, vaccinating, pre-conditioning or whatever and you have to stop and run in to town it blows your day. And when it comes down to it, you are going to focus on the ranch.” 

HealthCARE Montana, a unique consortium of colleges and industry partners, is working to address this challenge. HealthCARE Montana guided the revision of nursing curricula throughout the state in order to be able to offer distance education for Licensed Practical Nurse programs. Deanna says, “We have got to bring education to rural communities to create these opportunities because rural healthcare is just different.”

Great Falls College was the pioneering school who offered distance Practical Nurse programs and is currently educating its second cohort of graduates. Those students have come from communities ranging from Conrad and Big Sandy to West Yellowstone and Box Elder. HealthCARE Montana helped match these students with the right program for them and helped identify funding sources.

The program allows people to receive training in their own communities without having to go away. This opens up the healthcare field to a wide demographic of individuals who may have counted themselves out of healthcare opportunities on account of their educational backgrounds or stage in life.

Clinics a Good Option for Working off the Ranch

Deanna says that working in healthcare seems to be a natural fit for many Ag people. “When you care for your land or for animals you are a caring person and you take that into whatever you do. You take that in as a nurse and you care for people.”

Jenny Laisnez from Choteau, Montana says she came to nursing after a career in teaching and having her first two children. Jenny chose nursing because of the flexibility it allowed her family. “In farming and ranching, you never know what is going to happen next. You plan and then the weather changes or something breaks down and you need to get a part, and timing is everything. And people are relying on you.”

Jenny says she knows lots of women who are seeking out the extra income and something that will fit into their lifestyle. Even many women who are active on their own operations at times want jobs in town during the winter.

Second Incomes Common in Ranching Families

Given the unpredictable nature of farm and ranch revenues many families have come to depend on a second source of income. For some, the reliable extra income is a big help and for others having a spouse work off the ranch in order to receive health insurance benefits can be a huge draw.

Kendra Freeck of Anderson ZurMuehlen & Co. a CPA and business advisory firm says, “Of our clients based in agriculture we have about 40-50% that are also getting a source of income off the farm or ranch on a w-2.” Kendra notes that these numbers are probably even higher in younger generations where many parents expect their children to work a couple years before coming back to the farm or ranch.

There was once an age where women working off the ranch was either a nurse or a teacher. Today, the livelihood of many of Montana’s communities depend on people stepping up to fill those much-needed healthcare roles.

HealthCARE Montana: Creating Access to Rural Education & Employment



 

Brought to you by HealthCARE Montana.

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