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Six nursing students, clad in various pastel and patterned scrubs, sit in the hallway of Memorial Hospital at Easton, waiting for their turn to go into a patient room, where they will practice taking the blood pressure of a simulation dummy. These soon-to-be nurses are part of the approximately 800 students currently enrolled or preparing for Chesapeake College’s nursing and allied health programs, which use Memorial Hospital at Easton as its main training facility.
But what if Chesapeake College didn’t have a nursing program? What if the new Memorial Hospital site at Rt 50 next to Talbot County Community Center—planned for an early 2016 opening—didn’t include a facility for classroom instruction? And what if the state of Maryland was offering $27 million to solve the current dilemma?
The “what-ifs” are part of Chesapeake College President Dr. Barbara Viniar’s current reality. The first part of Dr. Viniar’s quandry begins with the 41-year-old physical education building, which is in such disrepair that the girls basketball team, which is ranked 7th in the country, cannot hold tournament games there. The space, with its outdated heating unit and patched floors, is in desperate need of renovation if Chesapeake wants to continue its physical education programs.
The second, and larger issue, is the nursing program. Currently, Chesapeake College uses classroom facilities at Memorial Hospital at Easton. The new regional medical center will not include an educational facility, effectively leaving the program without a physical home.
The college decided to combine both projects into the proposed Center for Allied Health and Athletics, which would house all of the nursing and allied medical programs such as radiological technology and surgical technology, as well as a 37,611 square-foot athletic facility.
Both the college and Shore Health see the need to relocate the program to Chesapeake’s campus, where students can receive educational support services, have access to the library, and attend their other classes. Following a national trend, nursing training has transformed from hospital-based programs to two- or four-year degrees at community colleges and universities.
Clinical rotations, where nursing and radiological technician students get hands-on practice, will continue at Memorial Hospital, regardless of its location. Chesapeake College graduates represent 26% of Shore Health nurses and 60% of radiological technicians.
The hospital currently supports the nursing and health professional programs to the tune of $350,000-$500,000 per year, as well as provides classroom space free of charge. While Shore expects to continue its financial support of the programs, it is unable to provide capital funding for the construction of the new facility.
The total cost of the proposed Center for Allied Health and Athletics is $36 million.
The state of Maryland has agreed to foot the majority of the bill, contributing $27 million. Chesapeake College would contribute $686,000 and would need Kent, Queen Annes, Talbot, Caroline, and Dorchester counties to fund the remaining $8.5 million. So far, the counties haven’t approved the project.
“What’s at stake here is the future of nursing and allied health. We don’t have a Plan B,” Dr. Viniar states.
Officials in surrounding counties support the project in general, but haven’t yet committed the money. “The Center for Allied Health and Athletics is a very important project for the future of Chesapeake College,” Corey Pack of the Talbot County Council offers. But he adds that, “Talbot County, like our partnering counties, is facing very serious fiscal challenges and the future forecast does not show signs of rapid improvement.”
A June 30th deadline looms, when the state’s $27 million offer expires. Three of the five counties must approve the project for it to move forward. “The current proposal offered by the College has been taken under serious consideration, yet no final decision has been made,” Pack states. “The council is working diligently to provide the college with an answer.”
Dr. Viniar is hopeful that the counties will put stock in the long-term benefit the project would bring to the area. “What we're saying is that there are always financial concerns, but Chesapeake is one of only three community colleges in Maryland that has received 75% of the cost of a project like this from state funding.” In construction alone, more than 400 jobs are expected over a four-year time frame.
“There isn’t anybody who thinks this is a bad idea. It is all about money,” Dr. Viniar explains.