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W. Baltimore residents offered scholarships for health training

West Baltimore needs more dental hygienists, nursing assistants, pharmacy technicians and many other kinds of health care professionals — and the state is offering to foot the bill to train them.

But first officials need to find the people to train. That’s where West Baltimore CARE comes in.

West Baltimore CARE is a project run by a coalition of community groups dedicated to reducing the prevalence of heart disease in the area while increasing the size of its health care workforce. The coalition is hosting an information fair Monday to get the word out about the state-funded scholarships.

Eligible residents can receive up to $8,000 toward the cost of their education if they agree to work in a health care setting in West Baltimore for at least two years.

West Baltimore CARE has enough money to provide scholarships for about 10 people, according to Tiffany Roberson, the project’s community enrichment manager. Roberson said about 50 people have already registered for Monday’s event, which will be held at the Center for Urban Families from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

“We want to build the health care workforce, and a lot of people are interested in that but they just don’t have the funds to pay for the school or the training,” Roberson said. “People want the education; they want to learn. They just need a way to pay for it.”

The Health Careers Scholarship program was borne out of the state’s Health Enterprise Zones initiative, which launched last year. Officials designated five geographic areas across the state as HEZs based on disproportionately high disease rates, health disparities or inadequate health care infrastructure in those areas.

Community organizations in each zone will receive a portion of the state’s $16 million total allocation, distributed over four years, to create a variety of programs that address the unique health care problems in their area.

The West Baltimore HEZ — which was dubbed West Baltimore CARE by local organizers — is defined as zip codes 21216, 21217, 21223 and 21229. The project is receiving $1.05 million in the first year, and community leaders expect to get about $5 million total.

West Baltimore CARE is managed by the West Baltimore Primary Care Access Collaborative — an umbrella coalition of 16 hospitals, health care clinics, advocates and other resource centers.

Several of those organizations could end up being future employers for the scholarship recipients, such as Bon Secours Baltimore Health System, Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, Mosaic Community Services, Park West Health System Inc. and a variety of others.

To be eligible for a scholarship, applicants must have lived in one of the four zip codes for at least the past two years. They must be 18 years old, or have a high school diploma or GED.

Applicants must also show they have applied, been admitted to or are currently enrolled in an accredited health care training program and that they’re eligible to become licensed in that field. Training programs are eligible if they can be completed in two years or less, such as those for dieticians, behavioral health workers and health information technologists.

The scholarship money can be used for tuition, books, equipment and other school-related expenses.

Applications are being accepted during three intervals this year. The first deadline is June 30. The second application round is in August and September; the third round is in November and December.

Roberson said she’s not sure if West Baltimore CARE will offer another round of scholarships next year. The coalition might choose to use the HEZ funds for other programs, such as the free community fitness classes that Roberson said have been popular.

“We have a lot of things in the works,” she said. “We’re still in the beginning of [the HEZ initiative], so we’re just trying to see what the community will best respond to and what they’re interested in.”

The other four HEZs are: Capitol Heights in Prince George’s County, Greater Lexington Park in St. Mary’s County, Annapolis in Anne Arundel County and Dorchester/Caroline counties.