During a Wisconsin Technology Council event held at the university this week, panelists discussed the possible impact of this initiative, funded by a $9.4 million Workforce Innovation Grant from WEDC. Gov. Tony Evers visited the university in December to announce the three-year award.

Mike Carney, assistant chancellor for strategic partnerships and program development for UW-Eau Claire, said the grant will help the university and its partners expand existing priorities. That includes educating more educators and care workers, as well as developing new degree programs in areas such as public health and health care management.

“Mayo [Clinic] already knew — and I think they learned this from the pandemic — that they needed to think about a different way to deliver health care, especially to rural regions,” he said. “And we also knew that we wanted to introduce innovation skills into our students and into the community. This grant kind of helped us tie all of that together.”

The university is partnering with the Mayo Clinic Health System, regional school districts and social service agencies and the WiSys Technology Corp. on a four-pronged project supported by the grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Pillars of the project include: addressing workforce shortages for nurses, teachers and social workers; developing new degrees and career pathways at the university for “high-demand” health care fields; piloting a care delivery model focused in part on community care coaches; and supporting entrepreneurs and local business owners in the region.

Rena Hale, a research associate with Mayo Clinic, pointed to opportunities for startups in areas such as telemedicine and other technologies.

“If we can pair that with amazing innovation, amazing ideas from students here, from faculty here, with the clinicians and even students and researchers alike at Mayo, I think we’re going to come up with some really, really amazing inventions that could really transform practice and transform care,” she said.

Panelists stressed the potential impact of “care coaches,” who would be trained to help coordinate communications between providers and patients. Dr. Rick Helmers, Mayo Clinic’s regional vice president for northwestern Wisconsin, said these professionals could help improve screening rates and medication regimen adherence.

“We have shown in some preliminary things we have done that someone like a care coach really is one of the best ways to improve control of hypertension or diabetes or that sort of thing, so that people have other resources they can reach out to … I believe it will reduce health care costs, but more important than that, make health care outcomes better,” he said.

Watch a video of the event here, and see more on the workforce initiative here.