After nearly 20 years of trending in opposite directions, health care is closing in on state government as the largest employer in Springfield. Four local schools now plan to step up health-care growth with programs intended to speed the training of nurses, including through a $545,000 grant announced Tuesday by a group of medical, business and not-for-profit organizations.

After nearly 20 years of trending in opposite directions, health care is closing in on state government as the largest employer in Springfield.


Four local schools now plan to step up health-care growth with programs intended to speed the training of nurses, including through a $545,000 grant announced Tuesday by a group of medical, business and not-for-profit organizations.


The group estimates 100 local jobs a year go unfilled because there are not enough nurses to go around.


“We hope to see new nurses in hospitals in two years,” said John Stremsterfer, executive director of the Sangamon County Community Foundation.


The $545,000 grant announced at Municipal Center West will help establish weekend and evening classes at Lincoln Land Community College and an accelerated bachelor’s program at the St. John’s School of Nursing.


A portion also will go toward a master’s program for nursing-school faculty at Benedictine University in Springfield.


The foundation and the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce are coordinating the initiative with the help of $250,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Northwest Health Foundation, and $295,000 in local matching grants.


Springfield was one of 10 cities selected nationwide.


Long-distance students


“Probably a third of our students are driving an hour-and-a-half a day, and that’s one way,” said Angie Anselm, coordinator of the nurse-training program at the Capital Area Career Center in Springfield.


The center added a third class of about 70 students this year with the aid of federal economic-stimulus money, and Anselm said many of the commuter students have been laid off from jobs in other communities.


“We have a number of students driving in from Peoria. A lot of them are laid-off workers with this year’s layoffs at Caterpillar,” Anselm said.


Anselm said the image of nursing as largely a field for women also has begun to change, especially among older and non-traditional students entering the nursing field from other industries.


“I don’t think people realize what you can do as a nurse. There are so many opportunities. If you don’t like one area, you can go into another,” she said. “It’s generally been thought of as a female profession, but it’s not that way anymore.”


Anselm recalled her own job-hunting experience prior to joining the staff at Capital Area Career Center.


She went back to school to earn a master’s of science in nursing and quickly landed jobs at what is now Taylorville Memorial Hospital and at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield.


“My husband would tell me if I lost my job, I’d have another one tomorrow,” Anselm said.


Demand expected to rise


Human-resource representatives from both St. John’s Hospital and Memorial Medical Center said projections are for a steady increase in demand for nurses, adding that Springfield is in competition with communities nationwide.


“It’s not new. Many, many communities are facing this. What is new is the way our community is approaching it,” said Brad Warren, system administrator for human resources at Memorial.


Backers of the grant announced Tuesday said funds also would go toward attracting more minorities to the profession.


Health care is the only industry to show consistent growth during a recession that has cut jobs from nearly every other sector, said Ron Payne, a local labor market economist with the Illinois Department of Employment Security.


“I would pretty much say throughout the recession period, health care has consistently been 100 to 200 jobs up compared to the previous year,” Payne said.


Tim Landis can be reached at (217) 788-1536 or tim.landis@sj-r.com.


Different directions


Local health-care and social service employment compared with state government June 1990-June 2009:


*1990: 12,900; 23,300


*1995: 13,900; 21,600


*2000: 16,000; 19,700


*2005: 15,200; 17,000


*2009: 16,100; 17,100


Source: Occupational Employment Projections, Illinois Department of Employment Security (figures include Sangamon and Menard counties)