News Editorial Board
Remember the promises that National Lottery profits would go to education? Erie County has taken a great version of this idea in its approach to funding a training program for those interested in healthcare careers.
The Erie County Healthcare Careers Program has proven to be much more popular than organizers expected, based on past levels of interest. With insufficient funds to meet demand, the county turned to “found money” from casino gambling. With that, the county is pressing those dollars into a program that will help improve the lives of residents, limit demand for public assistance, and potentially expand municipal tax bases. This is a creative and very appropriate use of these funds.
The program is for Erie County residents with a high school diploma or GED. Applicants must earn less than $25 per hour, be able to meet admission requirements, and complete financial aid applications for other sources of support.
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“The ECHC program has been an absolute and tremendous success,” county executive senior economic development specialist Zachary Evans said Thursday. The story behind its new funding suggests it’s more than just hyperbole.
The program began 12 years ago as a federally funded grant project, but grants ended in 2021. Recognizing its value, the county last fall dedicated $1.3 million for the maintain. Calculations suggested that would be enough.
As a federally funded effort, the program produced 110 licensed practical nurses per year. Assuming that the number of applicants would more than double, this funding should have been sufficient. But interest in the training program has exploded, with 485 people applying as of September 1. The total for the year is expected to reach 500, Evans said. It is a program that deserves every effort to meet its growing demand.
This program is well targeted, as health workers are in short supply. While the majority of candidates seek training as licensed practical nurses and registered nurses, the program also offers pathways to careers as surgical, medical and physical therapy assistants, laboratory technicians and surgical or dental technologists. radiology, among other professions.
Expenses are also well oriented. It seeks to match low-income residents with high-demand jobs in the healthcare sector. The program matches applicants with more than half a dozen local colleges and training providers, most of which offer vocational training and degree programs lasting between seven weeks and two years. Some skilled careers, like a bachelor’s degree in nursing, would require more schooling, but it offers a start.
The program, Evans said, directly benefits the community by “bringing Erie County residents into training programs and health care professions to help our significant staffing shortage here in the county.”
Additionally, by investing casino money in the effort, the county makes the best use of revenue which can be unreliable and some of which relies on poor player judgment. This is an ethical and productive use of the kitty. The county should plan to continue funding the program with those dollars.
Casino gaming in Western New York is the province of the Seneca Indian Nation, whose 2002 agreement with the state will be renewed next year. It hasn’t been an easy road for either party, with bad blood infecting the relationship.
This could be a vastly useful idea – in terms of fixing the fences and addressing the needs that exist among the Senecas – to ensure that members of their nation are aware of this opportunity.
Program information is available at workerbuffalo.org/echc.
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