Building for growth: A boom in medical building construction means more health care jobs in central Delaware

First State Orthopedic owners Bob MacLeish, left, and Mike Glick, right, talk with Executive Director David Blaeuer at the Dover construction site. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — At a glance, central Delaware’s medical field/industry appears to be undergoing rapid growth.

To name a few projects, the $19 million Center at Eden Hill short-term rehabilitation center in Dover is nearing completion; a new $10 million First State Orthopaedics facility is well underway; and, the construction of a mammoth $314 million Bayhealth Hospital, Sussex Campus is also progressing just outside Milford along Del. 1.

The medical groups are unanimous in agreeing that the investments being made are their answers to projected steady future demand.

What’s not so easy to see at a glance are the effects these developments might mean for job growth in Kent County.

According to the Delaware Department of Labor, data shows that jobs in the medical field will continue to be the most steadily growing — specifically in Kent County.

“The medical field has been the strongest growing industry in the state for years, and we expect that to largely remain that way,” said state economist Dr. George Sharpley.

From left, First State Orthopedic owners Mike Glick, Bob MacLeish, Regional Operations Manager Jeff Lord and Executive Director David Blaeuer look at the Dover construction site. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“For the period of 2014 through 2024, our data forecasts 1,750 new jobs in the healthcare and social assistance industries in Kent County: 620 of those are expected in ambulatory healthcare, 350 at hospitals, 490 in nursing and 290 in social assistance.

“That total is almost 30 percent of all projected new jobs in the county which is the highest proportion of all three counties,” he added.

As of October 2017, there were currently 10,400 healthcare and social assistance industry jobs in the county. Dr. Sharpley believes there are two primary drivers for the projected growth.

“The big driver is the aging population,” he said. “Demographically, the state, like a lot of places, is getting older and older people require more medical care than the young. That’s a long-term factor that will drive demand. Another factor are measures that have increased peoples’ access to health insurance like the Affordable Care Act. Anything that makes health insurance more widely available will likely drive demand. We don’t know how long that trend will continue — it may potentially be reversed — but as it stands more availability of insurance combined with demographics have made widespread growth in the medical industry inevitable.”

Medical groups bet on growth

Bayhealth’s reason for its large investment is to match the growing demand, said the group’s president Terry Murphy.

“The aging population in Sussex and Kent counties and the needs they have makes the new campus an investment in the community for generations to come,” he said. “The 169-acre site also provides us with the room to continue growing.”

From left, First State Orthopedic Executive Director David Blaeuer, Regional Operations Manager Jeff Lord with owners Mike Glick, Bob MacLeish take a tour of the Dover construction site. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

The new Sussex campus will include a 440,000-square-foot facility with an inpatient tower and ambulatory care center. Mr. Murphy says it will be a full-service facility with expanded cardiac services, an emergency department and integrated cancer care center.

Currently, Bayhealth employs about 3,600 staff members. When the new facility opens in early 2019, it will consolidate most of Bayhealth’s local employees. But, Mr. Murphy says it will necessitate new positions and keep them on a trajectory of continued 1 to 3 percent growth per year.

David Blaeuer, executive administrator of First State Orthopaedics, said their new 43,000-square-foot, two-story, “state-of-the-art” medical facility in Dover will also cause immediate job growth — and opportunity for more in the future.

“We plan to move in around July, because construction will likely wrap up in May,” he said. “Just this year we had a new surgeon and their team brought on, so we’re busting at the seams in our current offices. This will allow for expansion.

“We’ll probably be able to bring in two or three more new surgeons and their teams, essentially doubling our workforce in Kent County, with this facility. Altogether, that’ll be about 20 to 30 new jobs over the next year or two.”

Also excited about an upcoming partnership with DE Turf sports complex, Mr. Blaeuer said 2018 will be a busy year for First State Orthopaedics.

“We’re planning on having a facility at the DE Turf starting in late 2018,” he said. “First State Orthopaedics is also in the process of merging with Orthopaedic Associates of Southern Delaware and we’re looking into building a new facility in Milford as well.”

Again, the reason for investing in capacity is the expected growth.

“Our zip code analysis says this is where our growth is coming from,” said Mr. Blaeuer. “Currently, we have 24 physicians and 19 of them are up north in the New Castle County area, but some of them come down and practice in Dover occasionally. Where we saw the most need is in the Kent County market, so that’s why were making these investments.”

Job quality and labor pool

Dr. Sharpley said the salaries for jobs in the medical field can vary widely.

“There is a split in health care occupations as far as wages go. Practitioners do tend to be high-paying jobs but the support occupations, which there are just about as many, can be quite low-paying jobs.

“However, compared to an industry like manufacturing, which has its ups and downs, healthcare is a lot steadier a form of employment.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “health care practitioners and technical occupations” in Delaware have an average $83,570 salary. “Health care support occupations, on the other hand, chalk up an average $31,610 salary.”

Although Delaware is one of the few states without its own medical school, Mr. Murphy says the labor pool is robust and the existing higher education institutions are able to provide an adequately educated workforce.

“Last year, Bayhealth hired around 600 new employees — some replacements and some new positions,” he said. “But, we had 15,500 applications come in for those jobs, so the labor pool is such that we can be very selective. We’ve been very impressed with the local colleges and universities — they do a great job providing an education for those that end up at our facilities working. We have very good working relationships with every one of the colleges and universities.”

Mr. Blaeuer says that First State Orthopaedics is well supplied by the local labor pool.

“We work closely with Wesley College and Deltech on various programs,” he said. “We like being involved in the process of training professionals. We have scholarships with Deltech and allow the students to do some of their on-the-job training at our facilities.

“We also recently donated almost $30,000 worth of equipment to Wesley College to help with some of the training in their nursing program.”

Although the group has to recruit most of its surgeons from out of state, Mr. Blaeuer said the projected growth in demand is appealing to new hires.
“Something we actually use to sell Delaware to the young doctors is the amount of anticipated growth, and also that they won’t be competing in a saturated market,” he said.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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