Washington State University Tri-Cities will open a state-of-the-art College of Nursing facility in downtown Richland, buoyed by almost $3 million in contributions from regional health care providers and donors.
University officials and donors Friday announced the project, called the Tri-Cities Nursing Partnership.
Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland will lease 10,000 square feet of space to the university for $1 a year, and the university will begin renovations in April.
Also, Kadlec along with Lourdes Health Network, Group Health Cooperative and Lampson International, will contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to equip the facility.
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"In order for these nurses to be trained properly, they need to have the right equipment," said Bill Lampson of Lampson International, who contributed $50,000 to the effort.
About $435,000 in contributions still are needed by August to complete the renovation in time for students to move in next winter.
University officials and donors said the project is critical to properly house the university's cramped nursing program and also ensure future nurses are trained to meet health care demands.
"Together we are reinventing health care and I think that is a shared vision," said Patricia Butterfield, dean of the College of Nursing.
James R. Pratt, interim chancellor for the Richland campus, said the university began two years ago looking at places to relocate its nursing program, which has about 135 students in undergraduate and graduate courses.
University officials wanted to put the program closer to Columbia Basin College's two-year nursing program near downtown Richland, but the need for space was a primary driver.
"We were designed for small graduate classes," Pratt said.
Kadlec stepped forward with the offer of space for the next 20 years, which is worth about $2.4 million, plus $250,000 for equipment.
Group Health Cooperative provided $75,000, and Lourdes gave $150,000.
Kennewick General Hospital is supportive of the project, but because of its status as a public hospital district, it is exploring whether it can financially contribute, said WSU Tri-Cities spokeswoman Melissa O'Neil Perdue. KGH already helps the academic program by offering hands-on experiences for nursing students, plus several WSU Tri-Cities nursing instructors are KGH employees.
Donors said they joined the effort because of their own reliance on WSU nursing grads, the pending shortage of nurses nationwide and the growing role of nurses in a world with fewer doctors.
"We know our industry is going through dramatic change," said Scott Armstrong, president and CEO of Group Health Cooperative, which employs 900 nurses across the state.
WSU President Elson S. Floyd pledged to provide another $1 million toward the construction project once WSU reaches its initial fundraising goal.
The new facility will double the amount of office space available to nursing faculty and provide dedicated teaching space such as a six-bed teaching laboratory and nursing simulation laboratory.
Sharon Holden, director of advancement and regional development for WSU Tri-Cities, said it will have four classrooms with video conferencing capability, allowing the university to get more students into virtual classes with nursing faculty at the Spokane campus.
"All of our theory classes are taught out of Spokane," Holden told the Herald. "This will give us so much more flexibility."
Kadlec also will be increasing its presence at the site, which currently has its information technology offices near the vacant space. Kadlec President Lane Savitch said his hospital plans to move a number of its outpatient departments to the site, serving people with chronic needs such as diabetes, physical therapy, health outreach and womb care.
"We're trying to think of it as a lifestyle center," he said.
Pratt said it's unknown if the new space also will allow the program to add more students to the nursing program, which currently accepts about 48 new students a year out of about 120 candidates. Space in the program is determined by a variety of factors, he said, though he would like to see the program grow.
Lauren Jones, a recent nursing graduate from the Richland campus, said she anticipates the new facility making WSU Tri-Cities a more attractive option for prospective students and faculty alike.
"I think this is going to put us more on par (with other campuses)," she said.