Some call it the "silver tsunami" -- the coming wave of retirements as members of the baby boomer generation turn 65 and presumably exit the work force.
Along with more time to play golf or visit with grandchildren, getting older comes with aches and ailments. Those boomers who stop working as doctors, nurses or medical assistants will need the services of the health care workers left behind. In other words, more demand and fewer providers.
Local health care officials say the Tri-Cities could be better positioned than many communities in the nation when that tsunami hits because of the presence of two local nursing schools graduating the next generation of health workers.
Columbia Basin College and Washington State University Tri-Cities offer nursing degrees. Between the two, aspiring nurses can acquire anything from an associate's degree to a doctorate, and end up working in a wide range of nursing jobs.
And both are striving to provide state-of-the-art education to the nursing graduates who will go on to care for their Tri-City families, friends and neighbors.
"I think it helps the Tri-Cities to have two different programs here," said Brenda Atencio, assistant chief nursing officer for Kennewick General Hospital. "The (CBC) program allows nurses to get out quicker and be working. The (WSU) program provides more education and the ability to move up into leadership roles. ... For someone who wants to be a nurse, you can get it all in the Tri-Cities."
Nursing students earning bachelor's degrees or higher will have a new building in about a year, with the latest equipment, where they can learn their profession.
WSU Tri-Cities on Nov. 30 announced it will open a new College of Nursing facility on Lee Boulevard in Richland, with financial contributions from Kadlec Health System, Lourdes Health Network, Group Health Cooperative and Lampson International.
The university will lease 10,000 square feet of space in a former Rite Aid building now owned by Kadlec. The lease will cost just $1 per year for 20 years -- an estimated $2.4 million value, WSU officials said.
WSU is paying $1 million to renovate the building, and Kadlec, Lourdes, Group Health and Lampson collectively pledged $525,000 toward the $980,000 needed for equipment.
University officials on Friday announced that Kennewick General Hospital and Prosser Memorial Hospital Foundation also have pledged donations. KGH will give $150,000 and the Prosser hospital foundation will give $20,000, leaving $280,000 left to be raised, said Fran Forgette, a WSU regent from Kennewick.
That $280,000 would go toward two simulation labs where students can learn nursing skills and techniques with computer simulations guided by instructors, rather than working with live patients.
"From a high-fidelity simulation lab and larger practice lab to improved classrooms and staff offices, the new building will be a catalyst for best preparing nurses across the region," said Patricia Butterfield, dean of the WSU College of Nursing, which is based in Spokane. "I am in awe at how you have all come together for the greater cause to help bring talented, educated and dedicated nurses into your community."
WSU's planned nursing campus is about a block from CBC's Health Science Center, which is on Northgate Drive in Richland. CBC's four-story building houses its nursing classes, as well as related programs such as phlebotomy, radiology technician and medical assistant.
Mary Hoerner, CBC's director of nursing, said there's value in all of those programs being under one roof because students can learn side-by-side and then go on to work side-by-side in emergency rooms, operating rooms or medical offices.
CBC offers the Associate in Applied Science in Nursing degree, a three-year program that includes one year of general education and prerequisites and then two years of nursing. After completing a year of nursing coursework, students can opt for a Practical Nurse Certificate and take the Licensed Practical Nurse exam, which allows them to start working as nurses while continuing coursework toward their associate's degrees, Hoerner said.
Many students choose CBC because they want to get through school quickly and start working, she said.
"I think the community college has a completely different clientele than the university," Hoerner said. "It's people starting over with second jobs or third jobs. People with families working while they're going to school, and who have a strong desire to stay in the community. That's what the community college caters to."
CBC student Bryan Werry said he chose the school because of its reputation, low cost and opportunities to gain experience while earning his degree.
"I knew I had to pay for it along the way," said Werry, a music composer who worked in the restaurant and computer industries before settling on nursing as a career.
Both programs are competitive, with far more applicants than openings.
Hoerner said CBC accepts about 50 of the almost 200 applicants it sees each year.
Phyllis Morris, regional director of nursing programs for WSU Tri-Cities, said the regional campus accepts about 20 bachelor's degree students from a pool of about almost 100 applications.
CBC graduates with associate's degrees can take the state exam to become registered nurses and go on to work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes or anywhere else a registered nurse is needed.
It's the same exam and same basic career option as someone who gets a bachelor's degree in nursing. Both can become registered nurses, Hoerner said.
But going on to get the bachelor's can open some additional career paths, such as going to graduate school and becoming a nurse practitioner, or into administration.
Morris said students in WSU's four-year bachelor's program take more science courses and prerequisites in general than the associate's degree programs, but both produce well-trained students.
"(CBC) is a great program for a single mom who wants to get in the job market," said Morris, who is a CBC graduate. "It was great for me because I needed to get into the job market. Both are excellent programs."
WSU Tri-Cities offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, a Master of Nursing in Advanced Population Health that prepares graduates to work in community health programs, and a Doctorate of Nursing Practice that prepares graduates to work as nurse practitioners and offers focus areas in family practice, mental health practice and advanced population health.
The university also offers a "RN to BSN" program that allows registered nurses with associate's degrees to go back to school to finish their bachelor's degrees.
Morris said she sees a number of CBC graduates who decide to pursue additional education at WSU.
"We do have a collaborative relationship," Morris said. "We're trying to create a seamless progression for those students who want to go on for the BSN."
Kirk Harper, nursing director for Kadlec, said it's a benefit to the Tri-City community to have both programs producing graduates at a variety of levels as baby boomers retire.
"Just with those two schools alone graduating trained and skilled nurses, it gives all of us a good pool to draw from and to have available to us," Harper said. "As we have people leaving, we have people to backfill. It gives a good foundation for the whole community."