Network Spotlight: Indiana Rural Workforce Innovation Network

September 2017
Indiana Rural Workforce Innovation Network (IRWIN)

Pictured from left: Don Kelso, Executive Director, Indiana Rural Health Association; Amnah Anwar, Epidemiology Specialist, Indiana Rural Health Association; Heather Grable, Project Coordinator, Indiana Rural Health Association; and Cindy Large, Project Director, Indiana Rural Health Association.

Network Name Indiana Rural Workforce Innovation Network (IRWIN)
Location Terre Haute, IN
Key Contact Cindy Large, Project Director, Indiana Rural Health Association
Website IRWIN
Mission The Indiana Rural Workforce Innovation Network (IRWIN) strives to become a sustainable, rural-focused workforce network that recruits motivated students, delivers allied health professions’ education and training, facilitates meaningful clinical rotations, and places graduates in rural allied health professions’ jobs.

IRWIN will provide rural employers with access to allied health professions’ students with the skills, experience, and education necessary to catalyze a high-quality, safe, and cost-efficient 21st Century rural healthcare environment.

Sally Buck, CEO of the National Rural Health Resource Center, sat down with Cindy Large, Heather Grable and Amnah Anwar of the Indiana Rural Health Association to discuss the achievements and insights of the Indiana Rural Workforce Innovation Network (IRWIN).

Q: Briefly, how would you describe your network?

A: The purpose of the Indiana Rural Workforce Innovation Network (IRWIN) is to improve the quality of health care services and strengthen the rural health care workforce in Indiana by improving the recruitment, clinical training, certification and retention of allied health professionals in Indiana. IRWIN is hosted by the Indiana Rural Health Association (IRHA), the largest rural health association in the US, with over 3,000 members; and the Indiana Statewide Rural Health Network (InSRHN), a network of 30 rural hospitals and clinics, from which IRWIN recruit’s potential students, collaborates with for rural clinical placement sites, and places graduates of the Rural Network Allied Health Training Program.

Q: What barriers or challenges has the network faced?

A: Students commented on travel time to rural areas and limited services in some cases. Another barrier for establishing rural clinical sites for laboratory students is that many rural facilities often use contract labs, and then students could not be placed there. IRWIN worked with the primary lab contractor in the region, and now there is more interest in placing students.

Our original educational partner disengaged from the project during a restructuring process that resulted in a change in leadership. To adjust for that partnership change, we began discussions with another education partner that has a number of health professions programs in Indiana. In addition, we began implementation of an online Learning Management System (LMS) to offer convenient education to network members and the ability to offer the rural course statewide.

Q: What are some of your recent accomplishments?

A: It has been good to begin working with other academic partners through interprofessional education (IPE) to make connections between health professional programs with sites. We are talking with four-year universities about using our rural-health-focused online curriculum, starting in May 2018. This has been piloted with college students since September 2016. We will be expanding our outreach to include Family Nurse Practitioner, other Allied Health, and Health Administration programs. We are currently working with a new educational partner, Indiana State University (ISU), to build interest in other rural health professions courses and opportunities.

Both rural and urban students that have participated in our online rural course have increased interest in working in rural post-graduation, especially those who had clinical rotations in rural areas. Students like the feel of the smaller health care facilities. The focus had originally been on recruiting allied health professions (lab, sonography). However, this year outreach has expanded to include other health professions students. It is important to expose the variety of special needs of rural health care providers and facilities. There is potential to offer a rural health online course for high school students in the upcoming year to bridge the gap from high school to college learners.

Q: What lessons have you learned along the way?

A: There is little room for additional elective courses in programs at two-year colleges. Some students have disenrolled from our rural health elective online course due to issues that cannot be overcome by IRWIN. For instance, the program timing did not work out, there was a lack of student funding for an elective, or students needed to focus on core curriculum for their degrees. Based on feedback from students, we have revised the curriculum as a blended onsite and virtual learning experience. The network worked on identifying rural clinical rotations for students as well for members.

Q: How is your network approaching sustainability?

A: We are working on offering the rural health online course through WhiteBark Health Academy’s online learning management system (LMS) platform. It helps with rural retention efforts by offering continuing education (CE) opportunities virtually to network hospital members’ employees. IRWIN plans to enhance revenue by offering the rural health online course for members and non-members. In addition, the LMS is ready and can serve as a host platform for other types of online education or to provide comprehensive universal standardized screening tools for chronic disease management and behavioral health.

Q: Based on your experiences, what advice would you give to a developing rural health network?

A: Clearly define partner roles, responsibilities, and intellectual property (IP) ownership from the start through discussions and a more comprehensive Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Evaluate the capability of each partner to participate in the evaluation process, deliver on objectives, and share data. The infrastructure of each partners organization—corporate, main campus, satellite, etc.—makes a difference in being able to come to decisions. Frequent communication is critical in projects with new partners. Develop evaluation standards at the start and keep the evaluator engaged through the duration of the project.