RN program waiting for state funding

College's request of $2.7 million for building not in budget

`Going to make a case'

Nursing shortage fueled expectation aid would be granted

February 18, 2002|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

Carroll Community College's plans to start a registered nurse program have been suspended until officials at the Westminster school can determine whether it will receive the state funding needed to construct a nursing school building.

The school's $2.7 million request to build the 26,500- square-foot nursing and allied health building was not included in Gov. Parris N. Glendening's budget for fiscal 2003.

College officials are working with state legislators, county commissioners and representatives from Carroll health care organizations to get the money included in the governor's supplemental budget.

"We're going to make a case for it," said Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale, who, with state Sen. Larry E. Haines, both Republicans, is writing to state Secretary of Budget and Management T. Eloise Foster in support of the project.

Carroll is the only community college in the state without an RN program. The school established a licensed practical nursing program in the fall, but before it can offer a registered nurse program, college officials said, it needs a new building.

Funds for the nursing and allied health building were included in the community college allocation of the Maryland Higher Education Commission's budget request, said Alan Schuman, executive vice president of administration at Carroll Community College.

Schuman said he was told last month that the money was left out of the governor's budget because the economy had slowed and because funding could wait until the next fiscal year without significantly delaying construction.

"We were definitely caught off-guard," Schuman said. "We had every expectation because this was a project supporting a critical work force shortage that there would be support at the state level."

Delaying funding until fiscal 2004 would postpone the project by a minimum of six months, he said. "The big problem for us is that if those funds are not provided, we can't proceed with confidence in building the nursing curriculum in anticipation of a building opening to support those activities."

Carroll's commissioners have provided the $339,000 needed to design the $5.5 million building. The county also has budgeted $2.7 million for construction.

Carroll, like the rest of Maryland, is experiencing a shortage of nurses.

Statistics from the state Board of Nursing show a decline in the number of nurses working and living in Carroll County. On Dec. 31, 1997, 860 registered nurses and 330 licensed practical nurses were practicing in Carroll, and 1,827 RNs and 410 LPNs lived in the county. As of Dec. 31, 2000, the numbers were down to 691 RNs and 249 LPNs working in Carroll, and 1,515 RNs and 319 LPNs living in the county. Registered nurses provide medical care and can assess a patient's condition and determine medical care within nursing capacities. Licensed practical nurses work under RNs to provide direct patient care.

The county's population growth makes ending the shortage of nurses more important, Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said. "We have so many assisted-living units in Carroll County, and there are more being built," she said. "Carroll County General Hospital is undergoing a huge expansion plan. We really will need more and more nursing staff all the time."

"The urgency is now," said Geary K. Milliken, president of Carroll Lutheran Village in Westminster, who is lobbying the legislature on the college's behalf. "There isn't a health care provider in the community that wouldn't say so. It's a real stake for all of us in the community to have a strong community college and a strong health care environment."

Leslie R. Simmons, vice president of patient care services at Carroll County General Hospital, has spent the past two years serving on a statewide task force on the nursing shortage. She knows it firsthand: The hospital, which employs 400 nurses, has a 12 percent vacancy rate for staff nurses and is using agency nurses to fill in.

"What we can't understand is in one respect the governor is appointing a task force to solve [the nursing shortage]. Then when we have a potential solution, he's taking funding away from it."

Westminster Common Council agreed to write to Glendening in support of the project. However, Councilman L. Gregory Pecoraro, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, cautioned the council against optimism.

"The governor didn't cut this because he just wanted to cut projects," he said. "He cut this because he had to make difficult choices this year, and this was one of them.

"I'd love to see this project happen. We'd all love to see this happen," Pecoraro said. "But I think what we ought to be doing is helping make this a priority for next year."

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