CNCC nursing program a major asset for region |

CNCC nursing program a major asset for region

Lois Wymore

The new nursing program at Colorado Northwestern Community College is a huge asset to the area, especially in light of the acute shortage of nurses in rural areas nationwide.

“Our mission is to fulfill the community’s need for education, and the nursing program is doing just that,” said Dean Hollenbeck, vice president at CNCC.

The second class of 18 started on Aug. 23 and in May of 2005, the 17 members of the first class will graduate as registered nurses.

Dawn LaPlaca, human resource and recruiting director for Yampa Valley Medical Center, said the facility is pleased there is an option for nursing education in the region.

“We have a scholarship program that finances those interested in pursuing nursing,” she said. “It is one way we can grow our own nurses.”

There are 12 positions for RNs open at the center. LaPlaca said the facility does not distinguish between RNs with bachelor’s or associate’s degrees other than a pay differential of 2.5 percent for those with bachelor’s degrees. She said the cost of living in Steamboat is one of the deterrents when recruiting nurses to the center.

“We are only a 29-bed facility. Nurses choose to come here more for the lifestyle than any other reason,” she said.

LaPlaca said students receiving scholarships agree to work at the facility for a certain period of time. She said the program was not limited to just CNCC, although several of the students are in the program.

“May of 2005 we will have six nurses graduate that were funded by the scholarship program. That is a big bonus for the center,” she said.

Marilyn Bouldin, CNCC nursing program director, said many of the members of the first class have found positions as licensed practical nurses. She said the hands-on experience would help them as they continue on with the RN program.

“I know one (LPN) for sure at Pioneers Hospital in Meeker and another at The Memorial Hospital in Craig,” Bouldin said. “It is looking favorable at the new nursing home in Craig.”

Wende Maxwell, chief nursing officer at Pioneers Hospital in Meeker said she jumped at the opportunity to allow students to do their clinical work at the facility. “It is a great resource pool for us to draw upon in the future and they need the hands-on experience of dealing with patients,” Maxwell said.

Bob Omer, chief executive officer at Pioneers is thrilled to lend support to the CNCC nursing program. He said the hospital trustees are looking at ways to help not only nursing students, but also other medical support staff with educational goals. Pioneers offers tuition reimbursement, loan repayment and has provided some scholarships.

A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report released in February said more than 1 million replacement and new nurses will be needed by 2012. Statistics kept by NCLEX-RN, a national testing board, suggests there has been a 20 percent decrease in nurse testing between 1995 and 2003. And although enrollment in nursing programs did increase 16.6 percent in December of 2003, it would have to increase by 40 percent annually for the next two decades just to replace those expected to retire.

“We would love to enlarge the program but we have two huge problems: facilities and faculty,” Hollenbeck said.

He said the Craig campus is near capacity on classroom space but the larger problem is staffing.

“It is hard to get faculty when they can work as a nurse for three shifts and make more money than teaching,” Bouldin said.

Still, the nursing program at CNCC has improved the situation. “It is a huge first step,” Hollenbeck said. “We’re proud of the success and extremely grateful for all the community support.”

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