By Bill Studenc
Asheville-based Mission Health recently donated four hospital beds to Western Carolina University for use in its nursing simulation laboratories on campus in Cullowhee and at its Asheville instructional site in Biltmore Park.
Two of the beds are now in use in the simulation lab in the Health and Human Sciences Building in Cullowhee and two are in use in the lab at Biltmore Park in southern Asheville.
Mission Health also is providing a set of new intravenous infusion pumps for use by WCU nursing and health sciences students in training labs. The gifts of hospital beds and IV pumps, valued at approximately $15,000, are among the latest examples of philanthropic support that the region’s largest health care facility is providing for the regional comprehensive university serving North Carolina’s westernmost counties.
In addition to donation and delivery of the medical equipment, Mission Health recently began a five-year partnership with WCU that will fund a new nursing faculty member to help improve access to nursing education, and created an annual scholarship to provide financial support to WCU students in two health care fields.
A division of HCA Healthcare, Mission Health in May 2022 established the HCA Mission Health Academic Partnership Fund at WCU as part of an effort involving two other regional institutions of higher education to increase the number of health care professionals in Western North Carolina.
Through that fund, Mission Health is providing a total of $650,000 over a five-year period to enable WCU to hire an additional faculty member in the School of Nursing, which will allow the acceptance of 10 more qualified nursing students beginning fall 2023. State regulations require one nursing instructor for every 10 students.
Also involved in Mission’s initiative are Asheville-Buncombe Technical and Blue Ridge community colleges.
“As we face the many challenges in health care staffing, we are looking for creative solutions to strengthen partnerships with our local schools,” said Fran Paschall, Mission Health’s chief nurse executive. “Funding a role at each of these schools is one of the steps we are taking to help relieve the nursing shortage and help qualified applicants attend our local schools.”
An American Association of Colleges of Nursing report in 2019-2020 found that U.S. nursing schools turned away nearly 80,500 qualified applicants from undergraduate and graduate nursing programs because of lack of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space and clinical preceptors, as well as budget constraints. Approximately two-thirds of the nursing schools responding to the survey blamed a shortage of faculty and clinical preceptors as a reason for not accepting all qualified applicants into their programs.
The association also reported a decline in the number of educators available to train nursing students. The vacancy rate nationally for faculty positions increased from 6.5% in 2020 to 8% in 2021.
“We’re excited about this opportunity to work with a clinical partner to improve health care in the region,” said Lori Anderson, dean of WCU’ College of Health and Human Sciences. “It’s going to take all of us working together to overcome the area’s critical nursing shortage. Western Carolina University, as the region’s public comprehensive university, is glad to work with Mission Health and with other clinical partners to expand the pool of highly qualified nurses available to work and stay in Western North Carolina.”
Launched last May, the HCA Mission Health Academic Partnership Fund will provide $130,000 annually over a five-year period to WCU for salary for an additional faculty member in the School of Nursing. Appointment of the faculty member will occur at the discretion of university through its usual academic hiring processes.
The faculty member funded through the partnership will schedule student nursing clinical rotations at HCA-affiliated hospitals. In addition to Mission Hospital in Asheville, HCA has facilities in Brevard, Franklin, Highlands-Cashiers, Marion and Spruce Pine.
Mission Health, through the Mission Health Hospital Manager, in September 2022 also created a new scholarship fund providing $5,000 in annual support to WCU students in the College of Health and Human Sciences. Called the Mission Health Community Scholars Annual Scholarship, the fund will generate $2,000 in financial assistance for emergency medical care students and $3,000 for nursing undergraduates.
Preference for scholarship recipients will go to juniors or seniors from the 18 westernmost counties of NC: Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania and Yancey. The first scholarships will be awarded for the 2023-24 academic year that begins in August.
Support of WCU’s College of Health and Human Sciences through contributions and in-kind gifts launched in 2022 is part of Mission Health’s commitment to increase the pipeline of qualified health care professionals, said Chuck Tucker, associate vice president of academic affairs for HCA Healthcare’s Center for Clinical Advancement
“Mission Health and HCA want to collaborate with WCU and other institutions of higher education across Western North Carolina to ensure there are enough health care professionals to meet the future needs of a growing region,” said Tucker, a 1988 WCU nursing graduate and former School of Nursing faculty member. “It is important we do all we can to help combat the health care crisis in the U.S.”
Mission Health is WNC’s tertiary and quaternary care center. Mission Hospital is licensed for 815 beds and is the region’s only Level II trauma center, comprehensive stroke center and Level III neonatal intensive care unit, and includes the only children’s hospital in WNC.
Recognized for excellence in nursing by the American Nursing Center for meeting rigorous standards for nursing, Mission Hospital received “magnet” status, something only 9.4% of hospitals in the United States have achieved. Mission Hospital was also named among the 50 best hospitals in the nation for 2023 by Healthgrades, a national resource for comprehensive information about physicians and hospitals.
“When WCU students in nursing and other health care professions are conducting their clinical experiences at Mission, they are receiving valuable hands-on training at one of the top 50 hospitals in the nation,” Tucker said.