Secretary of Labor grants visit to BC

United States Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, who awarded a consortium of schools in the region a grant totaling just under $12 million, visited Bellevue College last Friday.  BC is the leader of the consortium, which includes seven other schools ranging all across Washington state and one from Virginia.

The grant is a part of a $500 million grant initiative for community colleges across the country, the second installment of a $2 billion grant program initiated under President Obama.  BC was one of 297 schools nationwide that received a portion of the $500 million grant.

The goal of the grant is to make the work force ready, specifically for the medical information and technology field (Health IT).  The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, which offers federal reimbursement money to hospitals and other health facilities that transfer medical records to a universal electronic system, has soaked up a large number of Health IT-qualified workers and now many places are aggressively looking for new employees.  “Right now, at Seattle Children’s, I think I have somewhere around thirty or forty advertising open positions for health-care informatics-type people. Anywhere from coders and transfersionists to data-miners and business intelligence analysts,” said Seattle Children’s Hospital Chief Information Officer, Wes Right.  “And I don’t think I’m the only one with that problem.”  The grant funding will go primarily to BC’s growing Health IT program to better prepare more students looking to go into this growing field.

“Secretary Solis and I share a very critical core belief that our community colleges and colleges like Bellevue play an absolutely essential role in helping America’s workforce get the skills they need for jobs in the future,” said Senator Patty Murray.  “It is a big problem, the so-called ‘skills gap’ that we have today. Jobs open, but people aren’t trained in the right place… it’s the kind of public-private partnerships that’s represented here today across industry and business and workers and education and training partners that are really essential to our nation’s effort to fill that skills-gap and increase the number of those secondary credentials.”

Solis expanded on the problem of the skills gap and the role community colleges play nationally in quickly helping to pair citizens with jobs in their community.  “This particular grant is made available for dislocated workers, for people who lost their job through no fault of their own, and for individuals, veterans in particular, disabled individuals and people who currently have been out of work for so long. These are the kind of efforts we’re trying to focus on in this grant…”  Solis said that the bill is not simply about the credentials, but about the real-world value of credentials – putting people back to work immediately.

With the growth in the health-care field as a result of the Affordable Health-Care Act as well as the aging population, Solis expounded the value of investing in a Health IT career.  “Whether it’s helping medical assistants, nurses, x-ray techs, physical therapists, pharmacy techs, kidney dialysis experts, we need it all.  Every time I get asked, ‘Where should I make an investment in terms of my career?’  I tell them healthcare is recession-proof.”

For more information about Bellevue College’s 18-credit Health IT program, you can visit the program website at, contact the Health IT chair Dr. Pam Charney at or talk to one of BC’s advising counselors about a potential career in the Health IT field.