CULLOWHEE – Relocation of Western Carolina University’s nursing education programs to the Haynes Center on the Enka campus of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College will help ensure a supply of well-qualified nurses to meet the growing health care needs of Western North Carolina.
That was the consensus Tuesday, Feb. 17, among speakers at a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house for the Western nursing department’s new headquarters. The move from cramped quarters on the campus of the University of North Carolina-Asheville into 10,000 square feet of office, classroom and laboratory space in the former BASF plant was made possible by a grant of $250,800 from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.
Robert Burgin, president and chief executive officer of Mission-St. Joseph’s Health System, Western North Carolina’s largest health care provider, told the nearly 100 people attending the ceremony that the hospital currently employs about 2,000 nurses. As the population of WNC continues to increase – and to age – the number of nurses needed also will rise, said Burgin, a member of Western’s board of trustees.
“The population of Western North Carolina is aging significantly. The older you are, the more you need health care, and it goes up exponentially as you age,” Burgin said. “We need good nurses. We don’t want the ones who can’t pass the boards. That’s why we recruit the nursing students from Western and A-B Tech. As an employer, having a good supply of nurses means we can continue to supply excellent health care to the people of the region.”
WCU Chancellor John Bardo thanked both A-B Tech and UNCA for their current and past roles in providing space in Asheville for nursing education, and called the dedication of Western’s new nursing facilities in Enka an important day in the life of Western North Carolina.
“Health care is at the core of the future of this region. We have an indigenous population that needs health care, and in some areas of Western North Carolina those needs are great. In a primarily rural area, we know the number of health care professionals available is limited and will remain limited unless we take action to change that,” Bardo said. “We know that over the next decade, the shortage of nurses will increase not just in this state, but nationally. We know that in 10 years, 40 percent of the nurses practicing will be 50 or older. We know that by the year 2020, we will have 400,000 fewer nurses than will be needed. The nursing shortage is not going to go away.”
K. Ray Bailey, a Western alumnus and president of A-B Tech, said the donation of the former BASF plant to the community college in October 2000 presented the opportunity to explore partnerships with other institutions working to enhance the region.
“This is a real win-win-win,” Bailey said. “It’s a win for UNCA because they need space to grow. It’s a win for Western because they needed room to expand their nursing program. And it’s a win for A-B Tech because it presents an opportunity for our graduates to continue their educations, whether bachelor’s or master’s degrees in nursing, right here in Asheville.”
The relocation also will enable Western to meet the needs of the region in other ways, said Vincent Hall, head of Western’s department of nursing. “Just as there is a shortage of bedside nurses, there is an acute shortage of nurse educators,” Hall said. “The average age of a nurse educator is around 53 years of age. Many are retiring or returning to the clinical practice arena. As we continue to attract larger numbers of students into our nursing programs, there may not be enough educators to teach.”
Vanessa Sanders, president of the senior nursing class, said she is thankful she and her fellow students have more room to study – and to kick back with classmates. “This will be not only a place to come to class, but it also will be a place where we can hang out in between classes and, sometimes, on our off days,” Sanders said. “I want to thank A-B Tech for welcoming us to campus. I think we have truly made ourselves at home.”
Western Carolina is the only state-supported university in WNC that provides baccalaureate and master’s level nursing education. The department of nursing at Western was founded in 1969, and has a long history of preparing nurses for practice in a variety of health care settings across the state. Graduates consistently post one of the top pass rates in North Carolina on professional licensure examinations.
For more information about Western’s programs in nursing, call (828) 227-7467.