Community Vitality: The Importance of Access to High-Quality Healthcare and K-12 Education

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By EW Tibbs

The question of why some communities and companies grow and prosper, while others shrink or even cease to exist, has intrigued me for decades. Theories exist with no single one applicable to every situation. Two variables stand out to me as “must-haves” to ensure community vitality. 

  1. Access to high-quality healthcare, and
  2. Access to high-quality K-12 education

As a registered nurse I have focused on the delivery of and access to high quality healthcare for the last 28 years.  Having cared for patients at critical times in their lives, I have consistently seen how reliable access to affordable, preventive and restorative healthcare services is critical to community health, especially for vulnerable or indigent populations.

My focus on quality and access in healthcare for all populations broadened during my tenure working with large geographies and populations as an experienced healthcare CEO and as a member of numerous boards of directors. 

The ability to recruit, develop and retain human talent is essential to the success of any company, and healthcare is no exception. My experience suggests that since 2011, it has become harder to recruit and retain human talent based on each region’s overall access and quality of K-12 education

In my rural area of Virginia, from a healthcare perspective, recruiting nationally and internationally was challenging for all types of careers, from entry-level professionals, through senior leadership positions. I attributed the recruiting issues to fierce competition over a finite talent pool, but exit interviews and feedback from existing employees and prospective employees indicated that a significant concern was the quality of K-12 education in my area.

Healthcare professionals wanted to move to areas where their children, or potential families, would have access to high-quality K-12 education, and the lack of quality education was a significant determinant when potential employees were making decisions regarding the location of their next career. Even though the area had a low cost of living, arts and culture, and nearby large cities to explore, healthcare professionals were as—or more—concerned with quality education than any other factor.

In the years that followed, my experience made it clear that this was the changing landscape for all levels of employees.  It also became increasingly apparent that quality K-12 education had to be present in both the public and private school offerings as many families were less interested in private education as they felt it in some way limited their child’s overall growth and development experience.

The role of the successful healthcare CEO must go well past the boardroom or the patient’s bedside.  Actively serving on K-12 leadership forums and boards are good starts. Investing in, or securing innovative funding sources and programs are positive steps to communicate that the hospital or healthcare system places K-12 education quality as an organizational priority

Specific strategies must be tailored to each community.  Partnerships with municipalities or community organizations, such as the YMCA, may allow the healthcare system to serve as the “start-up” funding and innovation partner with a clear sustainability plan to ensure long-term hand-off and viability.  Having worked closely with many of these organizations, I am inspired to see the incredibly positive things they are doing in the lives of young people.    

Today’s healthcare CEO and boards of directors must be well versed on the topics of high-quality healthcare and high-quality K-12 education. Achieving and sustaining high quality in healthcare or K-12 education is less likely to occur with an isolated focus on either individual factor and community vitality will only occur with a long-term commitment and focus on both topics. 

An experienced healthcare system CEO who began his career as a registered nurse, EW Tibbs is a proactive, determined leader with a passion for building lasting, collaborative relationships. He writes about healthcare leadership and community impact at ewtibbs.com.

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