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Thursday, March 25, 2004 02:21 am

Pool solution

Say a student is pursuing a degree in health care at the local community college. But the school's medical laboratory pales in comparison to the more technologically sophisticated facilities at the nearby state university. Why not share facilities?

"It is utterly and completely logical that these institutions should be combined into one facility," says Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce President Michael P. Boer, who heads the recently established medical district commission. "It is almost a waste of money not to share what is often very expensive equipment."

The pooling of both faculty and resources among institutions of higher learning in an effort to cut costs is central to a concept spearheaded by Dr. Jack E. Daniels III, president of Lincoln Land Community College.

After a year of planning, Daniels last week made public a far-reaching proposal to address critical shortages among area health care providers that would begin by targeting middle school children for "career awareness" classes.

"We've been looking at how to develop channels for students interested in health careers," Daniels says. "We need an ongoing pool of applicants to create a long-term solution to shortage needs in health care."

Though unable to provide specific numbers, Daniels says that the anticipated surge in retirees during the next decade will cause a nationwide boom in employment opportunities in the health care industry.

Behind government, the medical community is Springfield's second-largest and fastest-growing industry with 15,000 employees, according to Norm Sims, director of planning and economic development for the city.

In an effort to further develop the industry, the Legislature last year designated the one-square-mile area bounded by North Grand, Madison, Walnut and Eleventh as the Springfield Medical District.

The unfunded designation has led to considerable brainstorming by people like Daniels, who proposes the construction of a 100,000-square-foot facility within the district that could draw health care students from across the region.

While Daniels' concept garnered accolades from the medical district commissioners, it remains a long way off from ever being realized. "The issue now is funding," acknowledges Daniels, who is seeking state and federal grant money for the project.

That's the same issue facing the commissioners, who must raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to design a Master Plan for the district, which would require approval from the City Council, before any new development can move forward.

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