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Study considered to plan ways to attract doctors to FLW area
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (April 14, 2009) — Army officials say they’re having serious problems recruiting medical professionals to Fort Leonard Wood, and two economic developers from adjacent counties asked if expanding an economic development study currently underway could help.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Fort Leonard Wood Regional Commerce and Growth Association, Ben Jones, who heads up the economic development group for Lebanon and Laclede County, told RCGA members that Wal-Mart has millions of dollars of workforce development funding available and provides grants that begin at a base level of $25,000. The Prager Corporation is currently doing a workforce study on Pulaski County funded by the Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment, and Jones asked if a Wal-Mart grant could expand the Prager study to other counties and target it to specific needs such as medical recruitment.

“There are three pages of very fine type of categories that you can apply for, but under the workforce development/economic opportunity, there is veterans/military job placement,” Jones asked. “Is there any merit to the idea of trying to extend the scope of what they are doing out to the adjacent counties around Pulaski County and go back to Prager and say, ‘Same thing again, but bigger?’”

Col. John Megnia, Fort Leonard Wood’s garrison commander, said there’s a definite need to attract medical professionals to the area.

“We just send so many soldiers up to Columbia and Jeff City and down to Springfield. We are always referring them out because we can’t get that kind of specialized care locally,” Megnia said.

That’s not due to lack of effort. Megnia said the commander of General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital is working to expand the number of local providers participating in the TRICARE military insurance program and suggested setting up a meeting between the GLWACH commander and the heads of the civilian hospitals in Rolla and Lebanon to see where the three medical facilities could cooperate more effectively and determine what type of medical needs are being referred outside the area.

“Why is GLWACH sending soldiers all the way up to Columbia and all the way down to Springfield for medical care?” Megnia asked. “A lot of that is due to trauma centers and things like that, but a lot of that is just routine work. I had to go to Columbia for a procedure because they couldn’t do it locally.”

Mike Alley, Fort Leonard Wood’s chief of external media, concurred that there’s a definite need for better medical services in the Fort Leonard Wood area.

“Every time I go do my annual updates, somebody either in open session (speaks up) or just grabs me by the arm and asks, ‘When is the hospital going to get more of this or when is the hospital going to stop sending me there,’” Alley said. “Certainly, if you bring that kind of support to the community it’s going to benefit the entire area.”

Jones noted that his organizations’ board of directors includes the head of the Lebanon branch of St. John’s Hospital and agreed that identifying medical needs could be helpful in attracting physicians and medical personnel to the area.

“We’ve got three hospitals in three counties that don’t have anything to do with each other,” Jones said. “Would it be a worthwhile endeavor to research this a little more and perhaps try and ask for a funding request to hire a professional firm to come in and find out what is needed?”

Elizabeth Bax, who heads up the economic development organization for Rolla and Phelps County, said much of the problem may be which insurance companies medical providers are willing to accept. Lt. Col. Hugh Rogers, Fort Leonard Wood’s assistant chief of staff, said he believes GLWACH hospital personnel have recently agreed to contract terms with Phelps County Regional Medical Center but didn’t have details.

However, Bax said recruiting medical personnel to the area is one part of a broader problem: a lack of amenities which makes it difficult to attract companies and professionals.

“The name of the game is to import wealth, so certainly if you could make this area more attractive to retirees and doctors it is going to be an interesting trick,” Bax said. “The higher issue is the missing amenities in our area. That’s why I am banging my head against the wall.”

“We’re having trouble getting physicians because we don’t have the amenities, and I’m thinking specifically of retail. I’m thinking of the basics that make a community a community,” Bax said. “I think we need to ponder that.”

Rogers said recruiting civilian professionals to Fort Leonard Wood is difficult and the post’s civilian personnel office is making extra efforts to do so.

“When I got assigned here I thought, ‘Oh boy.’ It’s a great location and I love it now that I’m here, but the fact that there wasn’t a Target, there wasn’t a Kohl’s, my wife and I were already dealing with a half a deck already. That’s just the reality,” Rogers said.

Even lack of basic infrastructure such as roads is a problem in rural Missouri, he said.

“I moved here from Fort Leavenworth, and I can tell you that in 20 years of moves of household goods all over the world, we broke more furniture in those four hours going south on roads in the state of Missouri than in all of those moves combined,” Rogers said.

The problem isn’t just around Rolla and Fort Leonard Wood, Jones said, and is faced by St. John’s Hospital in Lebanon as well as most other rural hospitals.

“They actually have to recruit doctors like they are recruiting athletes. We feed them breakfast, we give them a tour of the town, because they have their pick of hospitals,” Jones said.

However, Jones said better marketing could help.

“How many positions aren’t filled just because nobody on the east coast knows we need an endocrinologist, radiologist or whatever?” Jones asked.

Megnia said promoting awareness of the rural quality of life around Fort Leonard Wood can help.

“You come into this place thinking one thing, and after about a month you realize that you were wrong in your misconception, and you leave recognizing the potential the region has,” Megnia said.

Recruiting medical professionals could be aided by explaining to doctors and dentists why coming to a military installation is virtually ideal for training young professionals and also for recruiting people who want to experience a wide variety of patient needs, Megnia said.

“Anything and everything rolls through that clinic. It’s just not a certain specialty; anything from major mouth reconstruction to caps and doing a filling. If you want to do it in dentistry, you get to do it on Fort Wood, because they process 100,000 soldiers a year through there,” Megnia said. “They have so many retired dentists who come there and work there as contractors just because of the variety of workload and almost any specialty they want to get into, they can do right there … The opportunities to practice a profession and a specialty, especially with the soldier population, is just enormous.”

Jones asked what the next step should be.

“Where do we go from here with this grant opportunity? There’s an opportunity here that we could get a chunk of change to do a survey or spend it on something to do something related to health care,” Jones said. “Is it worth our efforts to try and collectively gather our thoughts to do a grant application to Wal-Mart to fund a research effort to identify this?”

Bax questioned whether a $25,000 grant would be enough money to do a quality study of the area’s needs.

“You know, $25,000 doesn’t really catch big,” Bax said.

That isn’t necessarily a problem, Jones said, and $25,000 is the minimum rather than maximum grant amount.

“I don’t know if there is an upper limit — it is Wal-Mart, for goodness sake — if we need $100,000 to do this kind of survey and we can prove it and write a good narrative that we can spend that money well and create value,” Jones said.

Bax said it may be best to wait until the ongoing Prager Corporation study is done to see what gaps are in that study, and then decide whether a new study will be helpful.

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