Health Sciences Economic Impact Growing with the County’s Population
Health care’s economic impact spans everything from doctors and nurses to sterile instrument manufacturing and medical research. With such a broad array of people and companies contributing to the fast-growing sector of the Polk County economy, its impact continues to increase.
Announcements from companies like Assure Infusions, building a state-of-the-art fully automated pharmaceutical manufacturing facility to Polk County. The new company, locating in Bartow, will manufacture sterile intravenous bags and attract tech-enabled employment. The 100 announced jobs and the company’s estimated sales are expected to contribute nearly $38M annually to the local economy when indirect and induced impacts are included.
“The growth in our region’s population, especially within the older demographic, will increase the need for medical services in Polk County,” Falconetti said. “With the demand already high, Polk County’s health-care leaders, higher education institutions and community partners are working diligently and collaboratively to develop solutions to meet the needs of residents today and the future generations to come.”
A 2021 Florida Healthcare Association-commissioned report projects that Florida will need nearly 60,000 nurses, including 37,000 registered nurses (RNs) and almost 22,000 licensed practical nurses (LPNs) by 2035, according to an article written by Polk State College President Angela Garcia Falconetti and St. Petersburg College President Tonjua Williams on FloridaPolitics.com.
As chair of the Florida College System Council of Presidents for 2021-2022, Falconetti led the effort to develop a plan to address short- and long-term nursing needs. The proposed solution “outlined the need for faculty recruitment and retention, patient simulation facilities, clinicals, articulation and public-private partnerships,” she said.
The result: support and funding for the Florida College System and Polk State College, which received $5 million in nonrecurring funds to expand critical health sciences programs, Falconetti said.
But the work starts now, and Polk County could benefit. Five institutions of higher education in Polk County offer medical-related degrees. The economic impact of nursing and nursing education, along with other aspects of health care, could increase if colleges hire more faculty, bringing high-paying jobs to the county, and building new high-tech labs or retrofitting old ones. “These nursing laboratory learning experiences need to include equipment that will most effectively prepare students for clinicals and future employment,” the report states.
In addition, the report says, more public/private partnerships are needed to ensure future nurses are prepared to enter the workforce upon graduation. “In order to advance the above, increased and sustainable funding from the state and private partners is needed.”
Nurses aren’t the only health-care workers in short supply. According to the 2021-22 Regional Demand Occupations List by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Bureau of Workforce Statistics and Economic Research, which used data from 2019, there were thousands of openings in the health-care field, including nurses, respiratory technicians, phlebotomists and pharmacy technicians. Many are considered high-skill, high/wage jobs in an industry that Enterprise Florida Inc. (EFI) has targeted.
The category of Occupational Therapy Assistants alone is projected to see 22% growth and more than 370 job openings annually. The mean annual wage in 2019 was $30.71. It is one of EFI’s targeted industries.
The average annual wage for Education and Health Sciences was $54,353 in 2021, according to state data on Polk County.
Almost all of Polk County’s medical facilities and some colleges have strategic partnerships with major research institutions in the state. This further elevates cutting-edge research in Polk County. For instance, Winter Haven Hospital has a program with Florida State University College of Medicine to attract family medicine physicians to the area. Lakeland Regional Health is starting a Graduate Medical Education program to provide more primary care here.
In total, Florida universities invest more than $1 billion in life science research each year.
Spending on Health Care
While there are people of all ages who spend thousands of dollars on medical costs each year, those age 55 and over accounted for 56% of total health spending in 2019. This is despite the fact that they make up only 30% of the population. Conversely, those under age 35 made up 45% of the population but were responsible for only 21% of spending, according to healthsystemtracker.org.
In Polk County, 20% of the county’s nearly 750,000 people are 65 and above, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There are also almost 48,000 veterans in the county. Both categories tend to need more medical care, thereby spending more.
Central Florida Health Care continues to see the increased need for health care in Polk County, said CEO Ann Claussen. “In providing medical, dental, OB/GYN and behavioral health care, the need for our services is very important. With the changes in the economy, we are seeing an increase in the number of people who truly need our services. As a Federally Qualified Health Center, we receive federal funding to help those who are uninsured and underinsured. We are also a recipient of the ½ cent sales tax funds which provides funding for us to serve the indigent health care population. We are thankful to be able to be the safety net for so many people in Polk County.”