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Healing the healthcare industry

A health care system is an important facet to a community. For Pueblo, it’s the linchpin. Health care is the largest sector in Pueblo’s economy. The two hospitals are two of the top employers — Parkview leading Pueblo with 1,900 employees and St. Mary Corwin fourth in the county with 1,200 employees.

What affects Pueblo, affects the health care industry on arguably an even bigger level.

The CEO’s of both hospitals, Mike Baxter at Parkview Medical Center and Brian Moore at St. Mary Corwin, have come together to take on one of Pueblo’s biggest obstacles: branding.

The lack of branding around the city of Pueblo has taken its toll on the community and remains at the center of, or lack of, discussion around the community – the half-cent sales tax and tourism just to name two.

But the CEOs, hospitals and other parts of the health care network around the county are seeing the issue first hand and are taking it upon themselves to fix it.

Baxter and Moore are co-chairing a committee to lead the way on improving Pueblo’s image and will hopefully benefit the hospitals. Though the project is very young, the committee has a very clear idea of what they need to accomplish, and it’s not a small undertaking.  

“You just can’t pull one lever and be successful, we have to pull them in a coordinated fashion,” Moore said in a recent interview. The committee is working in three subgroups to pull all the levers just the right way.  

That means working on several different aspects such as retaining talent in Pueblo while simultaneously attracting professionals to live here.

Moore points out that this is not just about nurses and physicians, either. It takes a lot to keep a hospital running 24/7. Grounds keepers are necessary. Custodial personnel are necessary. Engineers and IT staff keep everything running smoothly, too.

The two executives are focusing their efforts into three categories: workforce education, workforce data and, obviously, the city’s image.

“Our educational entities are areas of strength, and we can build them, Moore said.  “We can grow from them.”

Colorado State University-Pueblo and Pueblo Community College both offer nursing programs, while District 60 offers the health academy and District 70 offers the STEP program — both geared toward high school students interested in a career in health care.

Joe Franta, graduate nursing program coordinator at CSU-Pueblo, sees most of his students return to where they’re from to practice as nurse practitioners.

He estimated around 70 percent of graduate students are from Southeastern Colorado. Of those, 35 percent are from Pueblo, and 90 percent will stay here.

“It would be very rare for somebody to come here and stay here,” Franta said. He just doesn’t see it happen.

The demand for nurse practitioners is very high, however. And that will continue to grow as baby boomers continue to retire and grow older, he said.

“There are three to four jobs I know are open right now and that’s usually the case,” Franta said.

Pueblo tends to run a little lower on wage, he said. “I think some make the choice to make less and stay here.”

That is a very important piece of the puzzle for Moore and Baxter.

Parkview is really careful about the people it hires, Baxter said. Last year, the hospital was able to significantly reduce its turnover rate.

“We want them to buy into the city,” Baxter said.

If they aren’t, they’re maybe staying for a few years before moving on to another city, another hospital. Getting them to stay means getting them to invest in where they live.

“We realized that some things are very interconnected,” Moore said. “We just don’t employ people for their eight hours. They live in a community and raise their kids here.”

So, making it a place to want to stay is important.

“This community is pretty good about pointing out our weaknesses,” Moore said. “We kind of revel in it.”

Moore has lived in Pueblo for two years and says he’s found is that people have a hard time summing up Pueblo.

“We have our heritage, but it gets a little fuzzy of who we are today,” he said.

Baxter echoed the same ideas.

“One of my frustrations is that we go to other parts of the state and we still have to work on our reputation,” he said.

Attracting physicians – Moore said physicians were the hardest to attract – isn’t easy with a bad reputation. Keeping health care professionals here with our reputation isn’t easy either.

“The biggest thing is putting the community first and that’s what we’re focused on,” Baxter said.

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Written by Kara Mason

Kara Mason is PULP's news editor. She is also the Society of Professional Journalists Colorado Pro Chapter president. Kara freelances for other regional publications, covering government, politics and the environment.

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