College, hospital partnership to boost nurse numbers
Columbia Union school to benefit from training program on Washington Adventist land
Washington Adventist Hospital and Columbia Union College have announced a partnership that representatives say will lessen a statewide shortage of health professionals and bolster enrollments at the cash-strapped school.
A cornerstone of the partnership is an agreement by hospital officials to build and renovate space on its Takoma Park campus for the college's School of Health Professions, Science and Wellness, introduced as part of the new three-school model launched in March. The space will allow Columbia Union, a Seventh-day Adventist institution, to enroll more students pursuing health careers.
College President Weymouth Spence said the partnership will allow Columbia Union, also in Takoma Park, to become a regional leader in health care education by offering services and enrollment that other institutions cannot.
Adventist HealthCare President Bill Robertson said that in 2006, up to 2,200 students statewide were denied access to nursing programs due to limitations in college and university programs.
Robertson predicted state hospitals will face a shortage of up to 10,000 nurses by 2020. He hopes that by investing in an improved nursing and health care program at Columbia Union, the hospital will ensure a future staffing of competent professionals.
"One of our focuses for a number of years has been the shortage of not only nurses in particular but health professionals and we think that our actions today can help address that," he said. "We have a tradition and heritage of hiring many people from the Columbia Union College programs."
The hospital has hired five nursing school graduates from Columbia Union so far this year, he said.
Washington Adventist plans to open a new hospital in the Calverton/White Oak area by 2013. Its current Takoma Park campus will be converted into what hospital officials are calling a Village of Health and Well-Being, which will include medical offices, an emergency care facility, a fitness center and educational space.
Spence said Washington Adventist's move "actually is an advantage" for the college in that it "gives us a lot more space to work with."
Robertson, who has also served on Columbia Union's board of trustees for almost nine years, said Adventist will also be considering the potential for nursing program partnerships with other schools, such as Montgomery College and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Columbia Union has experienced some difficulties in recent months as the school has undergone a restructuring aimed at keeping the institution viable both financially and in the marketplace.
Spence said that initial confusion and concern over the restructuring have been resolved and students and staff are ready to move forward with a three-school model that will help sustain the more than 100-year-old college.
"Like every discipline, [the college] has to be caught up with the market and that's a continuing process," he said. "In restructuring and re-engineering, you sometimes disrupt the normalcy of life, but that's all a side effect of growth and progress. I'm happy to report that at this time, among faculty, students and staff, feedback has been very positive."
Columbia Union in March announced plans to eliminate up to 22 faculty positions in the college's liberal arts program, beginning with several layoffs in the communications department.
Tensions came to a head March 26 when about 30 students disrupted a staff-only meeting and demanded clarification on the college's actions and other planned cuts in the English, math and computer science departments. Several student association members were present at the sit-in.
"Of course when a new plan is rolled out, especially one with some cuts in it, it raises a concern," Student Body President Berny Jacques said. "As more understanding is going around among the student body, I think relations have progressed."
The restructured three-school model includes an arts and social sciences school, a school of health professions and a graduate and professional studies program. Spence said the college has been seeing steady growth so far in the graduate studies school enrollment. He said the college is now meeting all of its expenses, but still faces significant debt that will be a challenge to overcome. He did not provide specifics about the college's finances.
College spokeswoman Saschane Stephenson said the college could continue to rely on support from the hospital as a means to secure resources to increase enrollment and confront debt.
"[Washington Adventist Hospital] is not merely leaving a footprint," she said. "They will continue to have a presence here in Takoma Park and at the college."
Former journalism professor Mitch Tropin, who was fired just before the student demonstration at the staff meeting last March, said the college had few options, given its financial shortfall.
"The school was facing a terrible financial deficit and somebody had to go," he said, explaining that the college's decision last year not to sell WGTS, its Christian-music radio station, further restricted the college's financial options. "I think there was just no choice but to get rid of us."
Justin Roman, a senior general studies student under the school of arts and social sciences, said the restructuring was unfair, but probably necessary in the long run.
"It was unfair for the students that were here already in some of those programs they've been dropping; they won't get the full variety," he said. "But if you look at enrollment, there's not a lot of students in those programs. I think that it will eventually expand enrollment."