Hospitals, nurses need Riverpoint facility

Dean Dorothy Detlor of the Intercollegiate School of Nursing wants to trade up to a new Nursing Center on the Riverpoint Higher Education Campus, even if it means leaving the quiet, pine-shadowed grounds of the Warren G. Magnuson Building behind.

The inside of Washington’s largest nursing college is as packed and noisy as the outside is serene.

The main classroom fills to almost overflowing. Five faculty members share an office in a converted conference room. Lights and other paraphernalia clog a small video production studio. Technologically, the clinical laboratories are to state-of-the-art as bone saws are to lasers.

“We really need to be on a main campus,” says Detlor, who has headed the school since 1997.

The intercollegiate center is a cooperative effort of Washington State University, Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, and Whitworth College. Students take the first two years of coursework at their home campuses and the last two in the Magnuson building barely visible from Fort George Wright Drive.

The school graduates about 190 students with bachelor’s degrees each year, some of them from a Yakima branch. The Legislature has added funding for another 40 students. About 60 master’s degree holders graduate each year.

About two-thirds of the qualified applicants for a four-year degree are turned away, which helps explain why Detlor and other supporters of a new center hope to convince Washington legislators of the need for the proposed $34.6 million Riverpoint building.

Also, an analysis released in January of the nation’s health work force estimates Washington will be short 2,700 nurses next year, and 8,800 by 2010. The national shortage will exceed 400,000.

Those figures may be hard to accept in a community enduring layoffs at its hospitals, but Detlor says rural hospitals and those in the Puget Sound area are the institutions desperate for help. The Spokesman-Review Sunday employment classifieds included listings for RN openings as far afield as Valdez, Alaska.

Detlor says quantity is just half the story. The more acutely ill patients who need hospital care, and the technology required to treat them, demand nurses with better technical skills and the education to understand the theory behind them.

In a Pennsylvania study, hospitals with higher percentages of nurses with four-year degrees had the lowest death rates, Detlor notes.

She says the licensed practical nurses who took the brunt of the layoffs at Sacred Heart Medical Center have many of the technical skills of RNs, but little training in theory. For the many who have been in the profession a long time, going back to school to make up that ground probably makes less sense than applying the skills they have in nursing homes, extended-care facilities or clinics.

So what would a Riverpoint facility provide that the current one cannot? At 100,000 square feet, 50 percent more space for one thing, but Detlor says that would be among the least of its positives.

Medicine will increasingly depend on coordination across a spectrum of care providers, from nurses to pharmacists to therapists. Sometimes, coursework for those care providers overlaps. The isolation of the Magnuson site on Fort George Wright Drive discourages interaction and forces, for example, separate classes in physical assessment for nursing and pharmacy students that could be combined if students were on a single campus.

Also, Detlor says, new schools contain laboratories with computer-controlled practice models that can simulate different medical conditions.

She says Riverpoint and the University District envisioned for the surrounding area will also attract master’s students who will go on to become family, psychiatric or community health practitioners, and Ph.D. candidates who can teach and conduct research in the nursing field. The school will begin offering a Ph.D. program in June 2006.

Detlor says the Legislature’s willingness to fund more student slots, and accelerate planning for the Nursing Center, is reason for optimism that money for construction will be forthcoming next year. But lawmakers anted up $33.8 million for the Academic Center barely begun at Riverpoint, and there will be more competition for capital projects next year.

Supporters are also looking for federal money to help equip labs, the community clinic, and stock the library. It’s a long wish list.

If former senator Magnuson was still around, the check would be in the mail.

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