New program to train health care workers in the U.P.

A new program is underway to expand training for community health workers and paramedics in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. U.P. WIN is funded by a three-year, $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The project: Short for the Upper Peninsula Workforce Innovation Network, U.P. WIN will work to increase Upper Peninsula residents' access to health care by exploring creative ways to expand training, education and healthcare employment in the underserved rural region — with possibilities to include tuition reimbursement for new training and creation of new certification programs.

The need: Project director Elise Bur of the Northern Michigan University Center for Rural Health says shortages of community health workers and paramedics in the Upper Peninsula continue to be an ongoing challenge that has only been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rural communities in the U.P. need and deserve affordable, quality health care services, Bur says, but maintaining a strong healthcare workforce in rural and tribal communities is made more difficult because of economic and health disparities and scarce professional training sites.

When rural patients don’t have access to primary care they may use 9-1-1 and emergency medical services (EMS) to receive healthcare in non-emergency situations, burdening emergency workers and health systems. Community paramedics can help bridge that gap and alleviate the stress on emergency systems by working in a public health and primary care role to address the needs of rural residents.

The goal: Michigan Center for Rural Health Executive Director John Barnas says grant partners want to help create and maintain a workforce network in the UP. The network's goals are to:
  • Develop and expand sustainable community paramedicine and community health worker models in the U.P., exploring ways to expand the roles of paramedics and emergency medical technicians to assist in providing public health, primary health care and preventive services to underserved populations in the community. 
  • Leverage EMS professionals to address at-risk populations, manage patients with chronic diseases in-home, and decrease hospital readmissions, while avoiding unnecessary emergency department visits. Identify, educate and provide cross-training opportunities for community health workers through the Center for Rural Health at Northern Michigan University.
  • Develop approaches in training existing staff to maximize their clinical and operational capacity to improve access to care and to avoid duplicating existing services.

What’s happening now: The three-year project kicked off Aug. 1, 2022. 

What’s next: “With this award, we will have the ability to work closely with our grant partners to offer paramedic and community integrated paramedicine education to U.P. residents,” says Andrea Abbas, EMS programs manager with the Michigan Center of Rural Health. “We are also excited to assist UP Health System Marquette Emergency Medical Services in launching the first mobile integrated health program serving the Upper Peninsula.” 

 A model for incorporating Community Paramedicine training into the Paramedic program is still in the works. “Our first step is to get the paramedic program up and running,” Bur says. “One step at a time…”

Who’s involved: In addition to Michigan and NMU Centers for Rural Health, other partners in the network are: Upper Peninsula Michigan Works; U.P. Area Health Education Center; U.P. Health Care Solutions; Everyday Life Consulting; UP Health System Marquette School of EMT; and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services—Bureau of EMS, Trauma and Preparedness.

The first-ever U.P. Healthcare Workforce Summit, organized in part by Northern Michigan University’s Center for Rural Health and Upper Peninsula Michigan Works, was held in June in Marquette, with groups from around the U.P. gathered  to discuss how to address the demand for healthcare workers. “A heartfelt thank you to the Michigan Center for Rural Health,” Bur says, “ for supporting initiatives in the U.P. that will improve the health and well being of residents.”