Kaiser Partners With Union on Novel $130M Workforce Development Venture

Ken Terry

January 09, 2020

Fulfilling a promise that Kaiser Permanente made when it averted a threatened strike in October 2019, the big national HMO has partnered with Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) to establish a new organization, Futuro Health, that will train allied healthcare workers for jobs in Kaiser facilities.

Kaiser will spend $130 million on the novel training operation. That is a considerable increase from the $40 million it originally proposed in negotiations with the union coalition representing more than 85,000 Kaiser employees, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

The training program is very important to union members because of the expectation that new hires will be needed to alleviate expected shortages in Kaiser operations. According to Kaiser and SEIU-UHW, California — where the bulk of the HMO's facilities are located — will need about 500,000 new healthcare workers by 2024.

"Kaiser Permanente recognizes California's healthcare industry is facing a projected workforce shortage of half a million people over the next few years," said Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Greg Adams in a news release. "By investing in health education, skills training, and retraining programs with Futuro Health, Kaiser Permanente, in collaboration with SEIU-UHW, is leading efforts to reverse the shortage trend. This investment effort is consistent with our Nurse Scholars Academy and mental health postgraduate training program."

Allied healthcare services are provided by a wide range of clinical, administrative, and support professionals, such as licensed vocational nurses, medical coders, health information technicians, radiologic technicians, and laboratory workers.

Futuro Health aims to graduate 10,000 new licensed, credentialed allied healthcare workers in California over the next 4 years, according to the news release. In the future, Kaiser and the union said, the Futuro model may be spread to other states.

Kaiser does business in eight states, including Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia, as well as the District of Columbia.

"Futuro Health represents a new model for tackling the workforce shortage and training workers especially when they no longer stay with one employer for long," said Dave Regan, president of SEIU-UHW, in the press release. "Ensuring that all people have access to high-quality, affordable health care and a living wage is a priority of SEIU-UHW."

Raising Up Current Workers

Besides training new workers, Futuro Health will also help current Kaiser workers improve their skills so they can advance in their careers.

SEIU-UHW's nearly 100,000 members, who mostly work in hospitals, will collaborate with Futuro Health and Kaiser Permanente to scout, recruit, and coach students.

Futuro is the first major venture of this type in the healthcare industry, Kaiser spokesperson Sara Vinson told Medscape Medical News.

"The nation will definitely be watching this novel approach for how to systemically build an in-demand workforce through partners that pull together resources at scale that students need to hone and increase to keep pace with their industry," said Andy Van Kleunen, CEO of the National Skills Coalition, in the news release.

One obstacle to allied health workers in attaining credentials to move up the career ladder is the student debt they would accrue. Therefore, Futuro will include education financing in its new education-to-work model, which will also include career exploration and coaching and targeted pathways toward credentialing and licensure.

In addition to working with Kaiser Permanente and SEIU-UHW, Futuro is partnering with Western Governors University to provide students with affordable training to become medical coders, medical assistants, and care coordinators. Additional partnerships are said to be in the works.

Van Ton-Quinlivan, a nationally recognized thought leader in workforce development, will serve as Futuro Health's inaugural CEO.

Ton-Quinlivan most recently served as the executive vice chancellor of workforce and digital futures of the California Community Colleges, the largest higher education system in the nation with 115 institutions. An appointee of former California Governor Jerry Brown, she helped established workforce development as a state policy priority.

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