Healthcare high school receives $26.4 million investment

Published 2:15 pm Tuesday, January 23, 2024

On Jan. 17, the Alabama School of Healthcare Sciences Foundation (ASHSF) announced an investment of $26.4 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies to help fund a residential healthcare high school in Demopolis.

Demopolis Mayor Woody Collins expressed his thanks to Bloomberg Philanthropies, as well as every person in the community that has been involved in the healthcare school process.

Demopolis Mayor Woody Collins thanks everyone who has played a part in trying to bring the healthcare school to Demopolis. Photo by Andrea Burroughs.

“This project is not a quick thing, but it is a wonderful opportunity. I’m an optimist and I am a dreamer. It is truly my dream that in ten or fifteen years after this school is up and rolling, there will be folks from states across the country coming to see what we did here. We have an opportunity to be a leader in healthcare education. That speaks volumes,” said Collins. “We are humbled by the generosity and faith that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Bloomberg Philanthropies have placed in our community.”

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Discussions on the school began in March 2023 when Gov. Kay Ivey announced the school in her State of the State Address. The school is part of an initiative that will focus on training students to address the worker shortage in the medical field. The healthcare high school will offer an innovative curriculum for 9th through 12th graders, exposing them to a diversity of STEM and healthcare opportunities, as well as hands-on clinical training experiences.

The school came under jeopardy late in 2023 when lawmakers defunded the $31 million that had been set aside for the project during the 2023 session. Later, $500,000 was given to perform a feasibility study to determine if Demopolis was the right location for the school. The feasibility study was conducted in October 2023.

The project is part of a first-of-its-kind $250 million initiative led by Bloomberg Philanthropies, connecting healthcare and education systems to create new career and technical education high schools in 10 urban and rural communities across the country. The schools will collectively serve nearly 6,000 students at full capacity.

“By combining classroom learning with hands-on experience, these specialized healthcare high schools will prepare students for careers with opportunities for growth and advancement,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg LP and 108th mayor of New York City. America needs more healthcare workers, and we need a stronger, larger middle-class –and this is a way to help accomplish both goals.”

Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement on Jan. 17 thanking Bloomberg Philanthropies for understanding the purpose and mission of the proposed school.

“I am grateful to Bloomberg Philanthropies for supporting the vision of the Alabama School of Healthcare Sciences,” said Alabama Gov. Ivey, who originally announced plans for the school during her 2023 State of the State address. “This first-of-its-kind school will provide Alabama students with career pathways in healthcare and will serve as a solution to the healthcare workforce shortage across all of rural Alabama. I look forward to working with the Legislature during the 2024 legislative session to make this vision a reality.”

UAB doctor Majd Zayzafoon, MD, PhD, MBA is developing a comprehensive plan and strategy for establishing the Alabama School of Healthcare Sciences in Demopolis.

“The Alabama School of Healthcare Sciences Foundation, in partnership with statewide health systems, schools, colleges, and communities, shares a vision for nurturing a healthy Alabama,” Zayzafoon said. “Through innovative and unique healthcare sciences education for our youth, we can address healthcare workforce shortages, enhance Alabama’s health outcomes, and lay the foundation for a prosperous future for all our state’s citizens.”

A press release sent out after the press conference stated that Alabama’s top 40 fastest growing occupations between 2014-2024 include 17 health-related professions. These positions include dentists and dental hygienists, physical and occupational therapists, advanced practice providers, registered nurses, social workers, and speech and language pathologists, as well as assistant positions like medical and nursing assistants, physical therapy assistants, and home health and personal care aides.

“This initiative promises not only to offer unparalleled educational opportunities to students statewide but also holds the promise of cultivating healthier communities and fostering improved health outcomes for all residents of Alabama,”  said Dr. Eric Mackey, Alabama State Superintendent of Education. “This forward-thinking partnership sets the stage for a brighter, healthier future for our state and its citizens.”

Whitfield Regional Hospital CEO/Administration Doug Brewer, said he has been in healthcare for 30 years and has been at WRH for six years. He said the need for healthcare workers across all clinical areas has never been greater than what has been experienced in the last few years.

Doug Brewer, Whitfield Regional Hospital CEO and administrator, speaks on the benefits of having the healthcare school operate alongside WRH. Photo by Andrea Burroughs.

“Hospitals across the country have struggled to keep needed clinical services in place for their patients. Not because of a lack of beds or equipment, but because we cannot staff them with qualified clinicians. This is particularly true in rural areas across the county,” said Brewer. “Having served in both urban and rural hospitals, I’ve witnessed firsthand the special connection between a rural hospital and its community. At Whitfield, that connection has been mutually beneficial. Because of our community support and a common commitment to the underserved healthcare needs of our region, our hospital has been able to restart vital services such as labor and delivery and offer many services typically not available in a rural hospital.

“I want to thank the Bloomberg Philanthropies and Mayor Bloomberg for this amazing gift. I have no doubt that this gift will help provide a bright future for many young people. But equally important, is that it will build a solid foundation to save lives by providing needed clinicians across our state and nation.”

The school is proposed to open in 2026 in Demopolis, Ala., and serve between 85-100 students in each graduating class.