WCU receiving Golden LEAF grant to increase family nurse practitioners in region

The College of Health and Human Sciences at Western Carolina University is recipient of a $225,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation to help increase the number of family nurse practitioners working in health care settings in rural Western North Carolina.

Announcement of the two-year grant-funded effort was made Thursday, July 2, at the Good Samaritan Clinic in Sylva. The project is called INPUT, or Increasing Nurse Practitioners in Underserved Territories.

It also is designed to decrease the number of hospital emergency room visits by uninsured residents of rural WNC seeking primary care by providing them with an alternative through access to family nurse practitioner services at the Good Samaritan Clinic.

The project will fund a professional family nurse practitioner at the clinic who will assist in the training of nine graduate students annually from Western Carolina’s FNP program, said Judy Neubrander, director of the WCU School of Nursing.

Officials met at the Good Samaritan Clinic in Sylva to announce a $225,000 Golden LEAF Foundation grant that will fund a two-year effort to increase the number of family nurse practitioners working in health care settings in rural Western North Carolina. Taking part are (from left) Mark Jones, Jackson County commissioner and clinic board member; Judy Neubrander, director of the WCU School of Nursing; Dan Gerlach, president of Golden Leaf; Rebecca Mathis, clinic executive director; Anetra Jones, chief nursing officer at Harris Regional Hospital; and Steve Puckett, clinic board chair.

Officials met at the Good Samaritan Clinic in Sylva to announce a $225,000 Golden LEAF Foundation grant that will fund a two-year effort to increase the number of family nurse practitioners working in health care settings in rural Western North Carolina. Taking part are (from left) Mark Jones, Jackson County commissioner and clinic board member; Judy Neubrander, director of the WCU School of Nursing; Dan Gerlach, president of Golden Leaf; Rebecca Mathis, clinic executive director; Anetra Jones, chief nursing officer at Harris Regional Hospital; and Steve Puckett, clinic board chair.

“Project INPUT will provide valuable training to tomorrow’s family nurse practitioners by giving them experience working in a rural setting while simultaneously improving the health and health care of the region that is served by our friends at the Good Samaritan Clinic,” Neubrander said. “The project also will improve access to health care for people in our region who do not have health care coverage and rely on the emergency room as their primary care medical home.”

The project is expected to be of benefit to residents of Jackson, Swain, Macon, Graham, Clay and Cherokee counties, the primary service area of the Good Samaritan Clinic. Most of those counties are designated tier 1, or economically distressed, by the N.C. Department of Commerce, and all six are designated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as “health provider shortage areas.”

The project also will seek to identify additional sites in WNC beyond the clinic in Sylva to enable family nurse practitioners to provide health care services to a larger number of patients, said Dan Gerlach, president of Golden Leaf.

“The Golden LEAF Foundation created a special health care initiative to help reduce shortages in the number of professional and highly skilled health care workers in rural, underserved areas of North Carolina,” said Gerlach. “Research has shown that residents trained in rural areas are more likely to practice in rural areas.”

As part of the project, Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva will be collecting data on current emergency room visits for primary care and other non-emergency situations to help determine how successful the project is at diverting those patients away from the ER and to clinics and family nurse practitioners.

If the two-year study demonstrates financial savings for the hospital system, project organizers will seek additional funding sources to sustain the program.

WCU’s School of Nursing launched the family nurse practitioner master’s degree program in 1999 to meet a recognized need for primary care providers in WNC.

The Golden LEAF Foundation is a nonprofit organization established in 1999 to help transform North Carolina’s economy through grants made possible by a portion of the state’s settlement agreement with cigarette manufacturers.

For more information about the FNP program, visit the website fnp.wcu.edu.