WCU, Mission receive $1 million grant to improve regional nursing care

A federal workforce diversity grant of more than $1 million will enable the School of Nursing at Western Carolina University to partner with Mission Health in an effort to increase the quality of nursing care provided to patients in rural Western North Carolina.

The funding marks the second $1 million grant awarded to WCU in the past year that is intended to improve the diversity and quality of nursing professionals in the region.

The latest grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will provide approximately $350,000 annually over a three-year period to create a program designed to increase the number of nurses with four-year degrees working in mountain hospitals and health care settings. The total amount of the grant, one of only 15 awarded nationally by the HRSA, is $1,049,000 over the three years.

The project will support development of nurses qualified as “advanced rural generalists” competent in meeting a variety of health care needs across diverse specialties and in different health care settings. The program will include courses addressing the unique health care needs found in the rural environment.

Research has found that the results of medical services are more successful when health care providers reflect the communities and the patients that they serve. Although the majority of nurses who work in rural health care facilities typically have grown up in rural communities, many of them lack the advanced levels of education and training necessary today, said Judy Neubrander, director of the WCU School of Nursing.

“In discussions with Mission Health, we recognized a need to increase the number of baccalaureate-prepared nurses in rural areas of Western North Carolina,” Neubrander said. “We are delighted to be working with Mission Health and see this partnership as a win-win for the region by improving the quality of health care for patients in the region and increasing access to educational opportunities to those in the nursing profession.”

The project will focus on registered nurses with two-year degrees who are ethnic minorities and/or from economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds who work at the Mission Hospital campus in Asheville or at its rural affiliate hospitals – Angel Medical Center in Franklin, Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine, Highlands-Cashiers Hospital in Highlands, McDowell Hospital in Marion and Transylvania Regional Hospital in Brevard. It will provide scholarships, stipends and mentorship opportunities to allow them to receive the additional education and training offered by obtaining their bachelor’s degrees.

Participants in the project are expected to include people of African-American, Native American, Hispanic and Appalachian descent – segments of the population that typically seek advanced education at lower numbers than the rest of the population.

Titled the Western North Carolina RN to BSN Rural Education and Support (RN-BRES) Program, it is designed to benefit students and patients from across the region, said Vallire Hooper, manager for nursing research at Mission Health.

“This program will support the continued educational advancement of nurses across Western North Carolina,” Hooper said. “A more highly educated nursing workforce will ultimately lead to improved health care outcomes for our residents.”

Kathy Guyette, senior vice president for patient care, said that Mission Health is excited to partner with WCU to provide increased educational opportunities for the regional health care system’s nurses.

“This partnership will better enable us to provide community-based care that supports the goals of our BIG(GER) Aim initiative – to get each patient to the desired outcome, first without harm, also without waste and with an exceptional experience for the patient and family,” Guyette said.

A previous $1 million grant to WCU from HRSA is designed to increase the number of students from underserved rural populations, including members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who enter the nursing profession. That project, now in its second year, assists ethnically diverse and disadvantaged students from Andrews, Cherokee, Murphy, Robbinsville, Smoky Mountain and Swain high schools who are interested in nursing as a career.

WCU has been at the forefront of efforts to increase the number of nurses with bachelor’s degrees in North Carolina. The Regionally Increasing Baccalaureate Nurses Program – or RIBN – started as a partnership between WCU, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and the Foundation for Nursing Excellence six years ago. The program allows students to be dually accepted and enrolled in both the university and a community college. Since its inception, the program has expanded across the state, with seven universities and 30 community colleges now involved.

For more information about nursing education at WCU, visit the website nursing.wcu.edu. For more information about Mission Health, visit mission-health.org.