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SSM Health, Siemens Healthineers look to bolster workforce and health equity

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Leaders of the health system and technology company talk about training workers, breaking the cycle of poverty and creating healthier communities.

It’s about building a healthcare workforce for the future, and about building health equity.

SSM Health and Siemens Healthineers have teamed up on a new partnership aimed at expanding services to underserved communities and training workers for jobs that are increasingly hard to fill. SSM Health and Siemens, the Germany-based technology company, announced the partnership in August.

David Pacitti, president and head of the Americas, Siemens Healthineers, says the partnership with SSM Health makes sense on several levels.

“The key thing was the goals and objectives that SSM have very much are similar to what we're trying to do as a company,” Pacitti says.

Jeremy Fotheringham, the regional president of SSM Health, pointed to the roots of the Catholic system based in St. Louis.

“Part of the mission of SSM Health started where our five founding sisters went into areas where the people were least being served,” Fotheringham says. “So this is a continuation or an extension of the legacy of their founding missions. Those underserved areas still exist in St. Louis, and lots of cities.”

The SSM Health and Siemens Healthineers executives spoke with Chief Healthcare Executive® about their efforts to train more workers, expand healthcare services and close disparities in underserved communities. (See part of our discussion in this video. The story continues below.)

‘Creating career pathways’

Siemens and SSM will be expanding diagnostic and imaging services across the health system, which serves Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Oklahoma.

In addition, the partnership involves efforts to train radiologic technologists. Siemens will be working with the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis on developing local imaging apprenticeship programs. Pacitti says that work will entail reaching out into underserved communities to find those who are looking for work and training for new careers.

The job training programs are linked with the health equity mission, Fotheringham says.

“As we started thinking about how we can influence the health and the wellness of entire communities, one of the areas we're really starting to look at is first addressing inequities,” Fotheringham says. “And one of the ways that you can do that is really creating career pathways for people who may not have had those opportunities before.”

Working with Siemens, SSM sees the opportunity to “develop career pathways for individuals, which gives good paying jobs, which starts to break that cycle of poverty that exists in many of our underserved areas,” he adds.

For Siemens, it’s critical to develop more technology workers. Many hospitals are struggling to find a wide array of technologists, in addition to nurses and other roles.

“Techs are hard to find,” Pacitti says.

“Nursing has probably gotten a little bit more than headlines, and appropriately so,” Pacitti says of the ongoing shortages. “But there's really pain in other areas as well.”

Fotheringham says SSM Health has seen shortages in a number of important roles across the system. Some of those jobs are less visible but are crucial in the delivery of care.

“One of the other really great things about what we'll be doing together, is addressing that inequity,” he says. “Sometimes the things that play an important role in healthcare delivery … just don't get the same attention.”

Pacitti says workforce development is crucial to expanding access to care.

“We can't even do that work unless we have workers,” he says.

Tackling health equity

As SSM and Siemens work to expand services, Fotheringham says the efforts will reflect the unique needs of the communities.

“We will have tailored solutions based on individual community needs,” he says. “And I'm so excited about the flexibility that that created. It's not a one-size-fits-all, it's a one-size-fits-best for those individual communities.”

By combining the health equity approach with training for healthcare positions, Fotheringham says he hopes the initiative could lead to a playbook that others could follow.

“We could really do something transformative in a way that maybe becomes a model for the rest of the nation and looking for people who want to create meaningful, transformative, change in their communities, meaningful jobs, meaningful career pathways, which then starts to address some of the inequities that exist in many of our communities,” Fotheringham says.

“We just thought it all started to align very well, and start to address one of the core challenges that nearly every healthcare system is facing, and that is a workforce shortage of highly trained and skilled people,” he adds.

Pacitti says SSM Health’s focus on improving care for disadvantaged groups was a key factor in wanting to work with the system.

“They have such a tremendous focus on inequities in the community, trying to create access to care and underserved communities,” Pacitti says. “The fact that there's an emphasis on workforce development and potentially even workforce development in the minority community really resonated for us.”

Making an impact

SSM and Siemens will be expanding screenings and investing in programs to help people manage chronic diseases. Both Fotheringham and Pacitti say they hope to see some of their health equity efforts pay off sooner than later. Pacitti says a mobile mammography unit in an underserved area could screen a lot of women in a day, and get women follow-up care if needed.

“We're excited that we can make an impact relatively quickly,” Pacitti says.

SSM Health is hoping to expand access in some of the system’s urban areas, where residents don’t necessarily have easy access to care.

“There are urban healthcare deserts that we have, and this is not just St. Louis, but this is really across many of our cities across the country,” Fotheringham says.

SSM Health is focused on doing more screenings in those communities, and some of those efforts are already getting started. Fotheringham described those urban healthcare deserts as “one of the unrecognized challenges we have in healthcare delivery and prevention and wellness.”

“We'll continue to do those screening because the more people we get screened, and focused on wellness activities, hopefully the more we can stop the progression of disease,” he says.

Pacitti says he is excited about the workforce development initiative and the chance to have an impact on improving health equity.

“It’s got so many big wins, potentially,” he says. “So I'm very excited about that.”

Fotheringham says he’s looking forward to making a tangible difference in the health of more communities.

“For me, it starts with those families that have had healthcare challenges and lack of resources that can get the access and the care that they need,” Fotheringham says.

“And for us, personally and for SSM, it's about those persons that get to have one more birthday, one more anniversary celebration, see one more grandchild, see one more wedding,” Fotheringham continues. “That's the reason for all the work that we're doing. And so we couldn't be more excited about giving those life experiences to people who we care for.”


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