GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KREX) — Today, Governor Polis, along with Lieutenant Governor Primavera, Dr. Angie Paccione, the director of the Department of Higher Education, Joe Garcia, the chancellor of the Colorado Community College System, Stephanie J. Fujii, the president of Arapahoe Community College, state legislators, and community leaders, introduced the Care Forward Colorado program, which helps community college free for aspirants to become health care professionals, saving Coloradans time and funds while improving Colorado’s health care system.

As part of Colorado’s Roadmap to Moving Forward, Governor Polis previously this year signed bipartisan legislation sponsored by state senators Sonya Jaquez Lewis and Bob Rankin, as well as state representative Kyle Mullica, to incorporate financial support into the development of the healthcare workforce, giving Coloradans who desire to find employment within field solid support.

“We are saving Coloradans money and making sure students can get the skills and training they need to build up our health care workforce for the future,” said Gov. Polis. “Colorado has one of the most highly educated and talented workforces in the country, and we are taking action to develop more talent right here at home.”

“The past few years have been difficult for all of us, but especially our health care heroes, and it’s up to us to support them any way we can,” said Sen. Jaquez Lewis. “The Care Forward Colorado program will ensure health care professionals can go to community college for free, making it easier for Coloradans to enter the medical field while supporting our health care workforce so we can provide the highest quality care for patients. Through this program, we’re saving people money while building a healthier Colorado for all.”

“When I recovered from my injuries and returned to civilian life, Arapahoe Community College gave me my first shot at getting back into building a new career by serving student veterans,” said Rep. David Ortiz, D-Littleton. “Now, with the new Care Forward Colorado Program, aspiring health care providers will have an opportunity to launch the career of their dreams. Free community college saves people money, and this program will strengthen our health care provider workforce to ensure everyone has access to the care they need, when they need it.”

“It’s exciting to see this new law I sponsored being put into action,” said Rep. Kyle Mullica, D-Thornton, an ER nurse. “The Care Forward Colorado Program at Arapahoe Community College will save Coloradans money as they pursue their careers in health care. I saw firsthand the burnout, stress, and anguish felt by so many of our first responders during the pandemic. SB22-226, and the free community college programs it’s creating, will boost our health care workforce and create new, free options for students to complete the degrees they need to build their careers.”

19 community and technical institutions in Colorado, including the Colorado Community College System, Aims Community College, Colorado Mesa University, Colorado Mountain College, and Colorado’s Area Technical Colleges, will provide courses and training opportunities. Students who sign up for one of the following health care certificate programs will have their tuition, fees, and materials covered until Fall 2024:

•             Certified nursing assistant

•             Emergency medical technician

•             Phlebotomy technician

•             Pharmacy technician

•             Medical assistant

•             Dental assistant

“Care Forward Colorado propels Colorado toward a health care system where students can get a free health care certificate from their local community college and then decide whether to enter the workforce or continue their education locally,” said Dr. Angie Paccione. “This zero-cost opportunity puts students on a pathway to a career in health care, not simply a job.”

“We have long been the partner of choice for Colorado’s health care industry and are proud to continue this legacy through Care Forward Colorado,” said Joe Garcia, chancellor of the Colorado Community College System (CCCS). “We are grateful to Gov. Polis and legislators for entrusting us with this generous investment and stand ready to train the next generation of health care professionals.”

One of the major goals of the Polis Administration has been assisting Coloradans in developing the skills necessary to pursue occupations they love, with a particular emphasis on vital sectors like education, childcare, and health care. One of more than a hundred initiatives the Polis Administration has launched to help Coloradans save money and find well-paying employment is Care Forward Colorado.

Leaders from the community expressed their support for the legislation that Governor Polis signed to establish the Care Forward Colorado program.

“Senate Bill 226 aligns with CDLE’s work to support a strong health care talent pipeline through investments in health care apprenticeships and other work-based learning models. We are committed to working with the Community College system and technical colleges to advance apprenticeships and work-based learning across health care professions,” said Joe Barela, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. 

“SB 226 creates a pathway for current clinical health care providers to advance their knowledge and skills, as well as the opportunity for new Coloradoans to join our essential health care workforce,” said Dr. Robin Wittenstein, CEO of Denver Health. “This investment in people is critical not only for hospitals like Denver Health but for our employees and future employees as they work to advance their economic mobility. We were proud to support this legislation.”

“Even before the pandemic, Colorado faced shortages in critical entry-level health care positions, and our colleges are committed to filling these gaps through affordable, accessible training,” said Dr. Landon Pirius, Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs at the Colorado Community College System. “We are grateful to Governor Polis and Senators Jaquez Lewis and Rankin and Representative Mullica for prioritizing legislation that makes historic investments in students and in our programs so we can bolster our work to transform lives and train the next generation of health care leaders.”