There’s a new health care business open in downtown Tacoma, one of five companies tapped to serve enrollees in Washington state’s Basic Health and Medicaid Healthy Options plans. 

It’s also one of the group of new and growing companies in the South Sound health care field that’s ramping up the industry hiring trend from a focus on entry-level to an emphasis on more skilled positions.

Coordinated Care, a subsidiary of the St. Louis-based Centene Corporation (NYSE: CNC), began serving members in July 2012 from a temporary commercial space in the city. Now the company is preparing for its grand opening in the Financial Center building at 1145 Broadway Ave. next January. 

“We are very excited to be based in downtown Tacoma,” said company president and CEO Jay Fathi, M.D. “The combination of Tacoma’s skilled workforce, affordability and wide range of amenities is a huge plus for our company and our employees.”

That Tacoma now has a range of skilled segments to attract such large companies is evidence of the region’s recent push to expand education and training options throughout the industry. The need for more highly qualified health care workers is a trend across the U.S., according to a 2014 American Hospital Association report, which said that an additional 103,900 nurses and 7,860 physical therapists will be needed annually over the next decade just to maintain the current standard of care. The same report stated that across the U.S. health care is also experiencing a drive for hiring in upper-level management positions, which opens the field for those with business degrees as well. 

For Tacoma right now, though, Coordinated Care brings 162 more employees into the city’s growing workforce. It’s also a doubling of jobs for the company, due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in the past year. 

Said marketing and community outreach director Sally Mildren, in the next two years Coordinated Care expects more slow but steady growth, although at this point the number of jobs is difficult to project. Currently the company is seeking 30 more staff to help manage member care across the state, she said. 

Of these open positions, 75 percent are entry level positions, with several skilled positions open for nursing, case management and leadership level roles. Already they have hired a pool of nurses with management experience, a combination still difficult to find in the industry. Mildren also said that most new employees were recruited from the South Sound and overall Pacific Northwest regions, although for some executive level positions, the net was cast nationwide to find leaders with experience in managed care and commercial insurance. 

Still, with the regional health care hiring trend turning to a need for more highly skilled workers, it’s a growing demand that’s not likely to vanish anytime soon, either here or nationwide. 

In a 2014 Employer Needs Survey, 45 percent of all polled companies said that they were having trouble filling positions that required specific skills, training and experience. Health Care was among the industries expressing this sentiment, even as hospitals are hiring more nurses with Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees and providing ways for those with more limited training to raise their education level to BSN.

Said Sue Asher, executive director of the Pierce County Medical Society, the call for more entry- to mid-level employees still seems to be the case, as opposed to a larger push by medical facilities and agencies to hire high-level workers.

“I have heard that independent clinics have a hard time recruiting on their own for physicians and highly skilled folks,” she added. “But if they use big recruiting firms, they often meet with success for this region, as our area is one in which many of them will want to live and work.”

An OnlineCollege.org study also reported this month that, although more health care professionals are being needed to serve the country’s growing senior market, in many places there aren’t enough qualified applicants to fill those positions. And, according to the American Hospital Association, 89 percent of hospitals reported openings for RNs that have remained unfilled for months. Many said they were also unable to find qualified pharmacists, radiology technicians and laboratory technologists. 

The shortage of health workers has been on-going for several years and many industry leaders expect it to accelerate in the next decade.

So bringing Coordinated Care into Tacoma seems like the first step in matching the South Sound’s growing high-skilled health care worker pool to jobs right at home. And officials from both Tacoma-Pierce County Economic Development Board and City of Tacoma worked hard to prove that this is not only an attractive place to work and live near, but also that the high-skilled worker pool is indeed available.

“The addition of Coordinated Care greatly complements Tacoma-Pierce County’s status as a major center of operation for leading health care providers,” said EDB president and CEO Bruce Kendall. 

“Their innovative approach and commitment to community support and participation makes them exactly the type of employer we want to attract to our city,” added Mayor Marilyn Strickland. “And their decision to choose Tacoma over other cities is a strong indication that Tacoma is not only open for business, but a great place to do business.”

Said Fathi, as Coordinated Care has become a part of Tacoma’s strong health care community, the company has formed key partnerships with local agencies, and created key relationships with city, regional and state leaders. Altogether, that’s what has sparked its two-year growth trend and projections for steady future expansions, particularly in highly skilled jobs. 

“Our experience in Tacoma has been tremendously positive and the city’s support, initiatives and growth provides a great place to work and do business.” he said.