House floats UMass health sciences school at Mount Ida campus
Rep. Lawn proposal seeks to address healthcare workforce shortage
FACED WITH a staffing crisis throughout the health care industry, the House’s leading policymaker on health care has an idea: build a new public school for health sciences education, located at the former Mount Ida College campus in Newton.
“In every industry we have workforce challenges but none more in dire straits than our health care workforce,” said Rep. John Lawn, House chair of the Committee on Health Care Financing. “Having a campus located inside [Route] 128, near our hospital systems, it would be an interesting idea to check and see if it makes sense to try to turn this into an area where we could really invest and start to train a health care workforce outside of what we’re currently doing.”
The Massachusetts House on Monday adopted Lawn’s amendment that would require the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which bought the property when Mount Ida College closed in 2018, to study the feasibility of establishing a “Massachusetts school of health sciences education and center for health care workforce innovation” on the campus.
Lawn said the idea was his alone and did not come from UMass Amherst. He said he drafted the amendment last week and had not spoken to UMass or any of the state’s major health care organizations about it. “This is just an idea I had,” Lawn said. “This is completely my proposal, acknowledging that we’re going to need buy-in from a lot of people.”
Blaguszewski said campuses throughout the UMass system “could potentially play valuable roles in helping the state achieve its goals,” and the project Lawn is envisioning is consistent with the vision statement of the Mount Ida campus to “become a hub of innovation, collaboration, and engagement that takes on the greatest challenges facing the Commonwealth.”
A spokesperson for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services referred questions to UMass.
The amendment calls for a comprehensive study of what it would take to build the new institution, including funding, opportunities for collaboration, and ways to recruit a more diverse health care workforce. It requires UMass to solicit input from a range of health care organizations and report back by the end of 2022.
Many health care institutions have been struggling recently with a lack of staff, a perennial problem exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, which led to burnout and retirements.
Lawn said when seeking potential solutions to the workforce problem, he was drawn to the Mount Ida site because it is a “turnkey college” located near Boston and many major hospital systems. The Mount Ida campus is now used by UMass for a handful of academic programs – an undergraduate veterinary technology program, graduate programs in statistics, business analytics, GIS technology, and summer pre-college programs. “There’s a capacity on that campus that’s being underutilized,” Lawn said. “I’m trying to bring stakeholders together with industry to look at the possibility of doing it there.”
Lawn said many nursing and health care programs in the state are small and at capacity, and the idea would be to create a new pipeline of workers to work at hospitals, nursing homes, and mental health facilities, by offering programs like accelerated nursing degrees or “second degrees” to people who graduated college but want to become qualified in nursing.
Rep. Steven Ultrino, a Malden Democrat and one of 13 co-sponsors on Lawn’s amendment, said the pandemic made clear how short staffed the medical field is, and he worries the problem will worsen due to the state’s aging population. “If we can offer more programs to attract young adults into that field, I’m all for it,” Ultrino said.
Amendments to the House budget are generally adopted after closed door negotiations. To create a more efficient process, House leaders bundle large groups of amendments together and vote on them as part of a single consolidated amendment. That happened with Lawn’s amendment, and any discussion about it occurred out of public view. To become law, the amendment needs to either also be included in the Senate budget or negotiated into the final conference committee budget, then signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker.