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WOU may team with OHSU for nursing program

MONMOUTH -- Students may have the opportunity to earn a bachelor's degree in nursing at Western Oregon University starting in 2007. Officials from Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) are consi

MONMOUTH -- Students may have the opportunity to earn a bachelor's degree in nursing at Western Oregon University starting in 2007.

Officials from Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) are considering housing a nursing program in Monmouth, similar to partnerships it holds with Eastern and Southern Oregon universities and the Oregon Institute of Technology.

Facility availability and state lawmakers' willingness to allocate dollars for the proposal during the next legislative budget cycle are requisite before a decision can be made, said Kathleen Potempa, dean of OHSU's school of nursing.

"We're very enthusiastic over the potential partnership ... it's a wonderful opportunity," Potempa said. "But, we both agree that we need state (help)."

Potempa gave a loose estimate of $2 million needed by OHSU to establish its nursing major -- a 180-credit-hour program comprised of classroom and clinical course work -- at Western.

WOU Interim President John Minahan said WOU may spend $1 million in building rehabilitation money for a high-tech simulation laboratory with all the necessary medical equipment. The school may construct a new facility or renovate an existing one, such as the recently vacated Oregon Public Safety and Standards building.

OHSU/WOU could begin enrolling as many as 27 students by fall of 2007 if everything falls into place, Potempa said.

Nursing majors would do their science course work through Western, while OHSU faculty would handle nursing-specific education. Minahan said Western wouldn't hire any new professors unless needed.

"I think this keeps us central to the intellectual and professional life in the valley," he said. "Even at times when money and financing are short, we have to find ways to serve the public good as a public school."

Minahan said WOU has been considering a nursing program for the past couple of years. The talks with OHSU intensified this spring, largely because of a growing need for nurses nationally and in Oregon.

Forty-four states are projected to suffer from a shortage of registered nurses by 2020, according to a report by the Health Resources and Services Administration. A study by the American Hospital Association said about 75 percent of all hospital vacancies are for nurses.

Potempa said increased medical requirements for an aging population and a lack of suitable training facilities for nursing programs are the contributing factors behind the shortage. The problem is further complicated because many nursing educators are reaching retirement and their positions are going unfilled.

Potempa said the Pacific Northwest has an especially "acute" problem because it is less populated than many areas of the United States and has one of the highest age demographics.

She said there are roughly 38,000 nurses in Oregon, and that "if nothing is done to augment capacity by 2010, we will be short by about 20 percent of our work force."

"We have no problems with interest, we have 12 times the number of applicants that we have room for," she said. "But it's a capacity issue, influenced by physical facilities and faculty, all of which are influenced by funding."

"Our mission is to serve the Mid-valley as a public sector institution," Minahan said. "And you would have to be almost blind not to see the need for nursing and nursing education.

"Now, we're in a position to do something about it."

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