COVID-19 Response and Reopening

Matched Grants, Endowment Strengthen Public Health Workforce

A newly announced $50,000 endowment and a $383,000 grant award that pairs equal funding from Deschutes County and the Central Oregon Health Council (COHC) will support a broad-based public health workforce initiative taking shape at Central Oregon Community College (COCC).

Retired physicians Dr. Durlin Hickok and Dr. Carol Wallace established a $50,000 community health worker endowment through the COCC Foundation and donated $20,000 to initiate an internship program with local agencies. Together, the grant awards, endowment and donation will support student recruitment, training development, scholarship backing, paid internships and an increased focus on careers in the public health sector.

“The pandemic has placed a strain on public health. Newly trained workers will fill an immediate need for entry-level public health positions,” said grant project lead Dr. Sarah Baron, assistant public health professor at COCC and a member of the community college workforce development group of the state’s Traditional Health Worker Commission. “Through this initiative, made possible by Deschutes County and the COHC, we anticipate increasing the number of people interested in public health careers with the goal of placing 140 individuals into the public health workforce over two years to provide pandemic relief.”

Last fall, COCC launched a successful six-credit community health worker training course, designed to meet all Oregon Health Authority guidelines for the certification-ready specialty. The new funding will expand on that training, add a six-credit peer support specialist training for working with those in mental health recovery, and support scholarships for students to complete these trainings.

Additionally, grant dollars will help devise hands-on internships, shaped in consultation with an advisory task force, and provide 45 paid stipends of $400 per term. The investment will also expand the role of COCC’s health careers recruiter, increasing the position’s hours and focusing on bilingual and bicultural recruitment.

“Public health and equitable access to health services have always been important priorities for Carol and myself,” said Dr. Hickok, commenting on the endowment he and his spouse established. “COCC has the only program in Central Oregon for training community health workers who are integral to reaching populations that are of greatest need.”

“This is truly a community-wide collaboration, one that will bolster our region’s public health workforce and help many individuals connect with meaningful careers,” added Baron. Input and guidance, she noted, has come from numerous partners, such as the Deschutes County public health advisory board, East Cascades Works, PacificSource and others.

“The pandemic has shown how critical it is to have a robust public health workforce,” said Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang. “This program will help strengthen local public health services.”

Public Health at COCC