Bitterroot College, Bitterroot Health Partner on Health Care Workforce

A student works in a health lab on the UM campus.

HAMILTON – Health care is Montana’s largest industry and is projected to experience more job growth than any other industry in the state over the next eight years. However, with the State employment rate hovering around 2.6%, health care facilities are facing extreme workforce shortages.

Because of this high demand for health care workers, Bitterroot Health and Bitterroot College are partnering to address these workforce issues through innovation and collaboration.

This partnership also is supported by Missoula College and the University of Montana Office of Health Research & Partnership, so students in Ravalli County have access to a wide range of health profession educational opportunities and student support services.

“Workforce in health care was already a difficult issue before COVID,” said Rebecca Bargfrede, chief transformational and corporate compliance officer for Bitterroot Health. “Now after COVID, we’re having an even tougher time getting the talent we need into Hamilton to fill these critical positions and care for our patients. The beauty of partnering with Bitterroot College is that we’ll offer amazing opportunities to people who already live in the valley, and who already love the valley.”

One way the partnership is innovatively tackling the health care workforce issues in Ravalli County is by increasing access to post-secondary health profession educational opportunities for high school students.

This fall Bitterroot College was awarded Montana’s Future at Work funding to increase awareness about health care careers – particularly certified nurse aides (CNA). This funding also will support Ravalli County high school students pursuing a CNA certification through the dual enrollment program or early college options.

The Future at Work funding has catalyzed the expansion of health profession offerings in Ravalli County. Bitterroot College and Bitterroot Health are exploring ways to create a streamlined pathway for students to start as CNAs and pursue a career as a nurse without having to leave Ravalli County to complete the educational requirements.

“We have an array of health care offerings at Bitterroot College designed to meet the education needs of our students and the workforce needs of our industry partner,” said Angela McLean, interim director of Bitterroot College. “Bitterroot College stands ready to help our health care partners across the street and across the valley in training the health care professionals that they need now and into the future.”

Bitterroot Health has recognized the importance of “growing their own” by mapping out career pathways within the organization. A high school student can start working at Bitterroot Health and advance their career while working and living in the community. For example, a student can start as a certified nurse aide, advance into the certified medical assistant role and eventually become a licensed practical nurse; all while receiving pay and benefits such as health insurance, retirement and tuition assistance.

“All a person needs is an interest in health care,” said Bargfrede. “That’s really all it takes. We will get you the rest of the tools you need to be successful.”


Contact: Angela McLean, interim director, Bitterroot College, 406-375-0100; Rebecca Bargfrede, chief transformational and corporate compliance officer for Bitterroot Health, 406-375-4623.