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3:10 AM Fri, Nov. 16th

Ailing nurses: Initiative seeks to reverse profession's decline

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<p>
RN Nicole Hoops, left who graduated from the Yavapai College Nursing 
program in 2004, and RN Katie Block prepare syringes for patients at Yavapai Regional Medical Center in Prescott.

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<p> RN Nicole Hoops, left who graduated from the Yavapai College Nursing program in 2004, and RN Katie Block prepare syringes for patients at Yavapai Regional Medical Center in Prescott.

The Yavapai College Foundation has launched the Community Health Initiative in an effort to prevent the decline of the Yavapai College Nursing Program.

Foundation Vice President Steve Walker said the nursing program would lose more than $630,000 in annual money from the Department of Commerce and Arizona Senate Bill 1517, both of which sunset Dec. 31.

Walker said the financial loss could force the college to cut back its nursing program by one-third to one-half and exacerbate a growing nursing shortage in Yavapai County.

In 2001, then-Governor Janet Napolitano challenged colleges and universities to double their nursing enrollment. Walker said at that time YC had 46 students enrolled in the nursing program. In 2008, 128 students graduated from YC's nursing program.

"We can no longer depend on the boom and bust of federal and state money," Walker said.

The foundation is looking to local hospitals, physicians, health insurance carriers, ancillary health services, the business community and the not-for-profit community to help solve the financial problem facing the nursing program.

The foundation is looking for cash support.

"If everyone voluntarily gives a little on an annual basis, the nursing program will not only stay where it is, but it will grow," Walker said.

In a press release, YC President Dr. James Horton said, "Nurses are frontline caregivers, the backbone of our healthcare system. About 85 percent of the nurses who graduate from Yavapai College remain in the area, caring for our community. That's what makes this a community health issue; it's why we created the Community Health Initiative. We must take the initiative, as a community, to protect our health."

It costs about $37,000 to graduate each nursing student. The students spend about $8,000 for tuition, books and fees. That leaves the college to pay $29,000.

The West Yavapai Physicians Foundation and Yavapai Regional Medical Center already support the nursing program at the college, and officials are unsure what additional support they can provide.

Dr. John Oakley, president of the West Yavapai Physicians Foundation, said the foundation supports the YC nursing program with scholarship money.

A five-member board of directors decides how to distribute the foundation money.

"Each year, Yavapai College benefits. The foundation gives between $10,000 and $15,000 for scholarships to support the nursing program," Oakley said.

The college foundation may be looking at the physicians' foundation for additional financial support but Oakley said the WYPF board "has not decided how it will support the nursing program."

"YRMC places an extremely high value on education for health care careers. We strongly believe in supporting Yavapai College and its excellent nursing program," said Tim Barnett, YRMC President and CEO. "Our commitment to Yavapai College and to nursing students in our community is evident in the sizable financial investment we devote to the college and nursing students each year."

YRMC annually provides more than $619,650 in support to Yavapai College in a variety of ways.

According to YRMC officials, the medical center sponsors an instructor for the nursing program; serves as a clinical site for nursing students; employs and pays nursing students as externs; offers employee tuition reimbursement for coursework related to health care careers; and offers a sponsorship program that supports nursing students with stipends to help cover not only tuition costs but also living expenses.

"After all, the Yavapai College nursing program provides people in our community with very well trained and highly-skilled nurses to provide care for them and their loved ones now and into the future," Barnett said.

According to Walker, Arizona would need 5,000 new nurses by 2017. He said all the higher education institutions combined would produce only 2,000 new nurses.

"If we do not step up, YC will have to cut its nursing program by one-third to one-half. That is potentially catastrophic because, to have built positive momentum and (then) to move backward, we would essentially lose 15 years of the nursing program at Yavapai College," Walker said.

Oakley said the college might have to reduce its nursing program temporarily as officials look for other grants and solutions.

"The nursing program, by mandate, doubled its graduates. I am very proud of Yavapai College. As far as a solution, the YC board has to get on top of this. It has some major decisions to make," Oakley said.

Information about the YC nursing program is available at www.yavapai.cc.az.us/nursing.

Additional information about the Community Health Initiative is available by contacting Walker at steve.walker@yc.edu or 776-2063.