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The Newberg college is looking to build a new health college with Oregonians for Rural Health

George Fox University will explore expanding its campus to southern Oregon.

The college signed a memorandum of understanding to explore building an allied and mental health college in Roseburg.

GFU will be working with Oregonians for Rural Health, a coalition dedicated to promoting the health and vitality of rural communities, to start the process that could bring a new college program to the area.

School officials say the project is still in the planning stage, so there isn't an official release.

The Oregonians for Rural Health coalition will look for a site to build, create the ownership structure and provide the funding. George Fox University is expected to bring the management group, the accreditation, and the models on how to run a university, as well as provide staff and instructors.

"Healthcare is vital to our local communities and the region. Our providers, including CHI Mercy Health and the Roseburg VA in Douglas County, have struggled with growing allied health job vacancy rates in multiple occupational fields that make it difficult to keep up with the demand for services," said Wayne Patterson, executive director of the Umpqua Economic Development Partnership. "Healthcare plays a pivotal role in our economy by providing good paying jobs, supporting local employers and making the area attractive for new business development. Diversifying our economy by investing in healthcare also serves as a key driver in creating economic growth and stability for the entire region."

Patterson estimated about 50,000 healthcare and social assistance jobs will be added to Oregon by 2027, and that to registered nursing alone there would be more than 20,000 projected jobs added due to attrition.

"We have a unique opportunity here in Roseburg thanks, in part, to our central location in southern Oregon that positions us to effectively serve the region and given the expertise and involvement of our diverse coalition of healthcare providers like Mercy and the Roseburg VA, elected officials, and others to better ensure access to local quality healthcare, create living wage jobs, and revitalize the economy," he said.

"Over the last two decades, George Fox has expanded from a small regional college to a national university with a broad range of programs. As we continue to add degree programs in healthcare and related fields, we're excited about this potential opportunity to help southern and rural Oregon solve its workforce shortages," said Linda Samek, the school's provost.

According to the GFU website, the scope of programming for Roseburg hasn't been determined, but plans call for the college to offer bachelors, masters and doctorate level degrees. The program has three goals. The first is to "Provide a reliable pipeline of skilled allied healthcare and mental health professionals in multiple high-demand medical fields." The second is to "Connect individuals to living-wage jobs through locally delivered degree programs." And the third is to "Create economic growth and stability across the region."

The Roseburg City Council unanimously supported the city's financial involvement with the college in April.

According to GFU, this proposal "aligns with George Fox's commitment to develop programs that offer hands-on practical training and provide a much-needed service to the community of which they are a part."

Patterson said the coalition has explored several sites and has signed with a local engineering group and property owner to start a site plan for two locations. The coalition is also looking at a third location. All sites will be within Roseburg city limits.

Kelly Morgan, CEO of Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg and a member of Oregonians for Rural Health Coalition, said there need for healthcare education in Southern Oregon is great, as the region is facing growing allied and mental health workforce shortages.

In a press release, Morgan said "The idea of building a regional allied and mental health college to tackle workforce and healthcare access issues and revitalize our economy came to the forefront several years ago. It's exciting to be taking this step forward with George Fox today." Morgan added, "George Fox is an established Oregon academic institution whose broad range of nationally accredited allied and mental health educational programs directly serve acute workforce needs shared by providers, including hospitals and medical facilities operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs."

The Roseburg VA Medical Center is the principal partner with GFU for this project. Last fall, they provided testimony to the state assembly, saying many of its allied health positions are difficult to fill and that "veteran access to primary, specialty, and mental health care can be increased if we could establish and maintain a professional workforce of healthcare workers."

George Fox University's main campus is in Newberg, with additional sites in Salem, Redmond and Portland. The university also offers online classes.

Information from the school said this is an exclusive partnership which also includes a provision to explore fund development and in-kind contributions to build and equip the college facility.

The plan for the new college is to provide a reliable pipeline of healthcare professionals in multiple medical fields, connect individuals to living wage jobs and create economic growth and stability to the region.


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