South Bend’s new nursing program is coming to Beacon Health and Ivy Tech

Two years ago, as phrases such as “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” became more common, the healthcare industry worked at breakneck speed to increase capacity.

Overflow units were established in schools, parking lots and convention centers as doctors and nurses prepared for the spread of a new virus – COVID-19.

Today, as a new, more contagious variant of the virus sweeps across the United States, some of the physical infrastructure from those early days remains. What hasn’t changed, however, is a growing shortage of healthcare workers needed to care for the largely unvaccinated population filling emergency rooms and intensive care units.

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About 18% of nearly 5,500 hospitals across the country reported critical care staff shortages on Wednesday, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, and nearly 25% – or more than 1 hospital in 4 – said they anticipated shortages within the week. .

Nurses are among the most important needs of the Beacon Health System, CEO Kreg Gruber said. The hospital system posted 350 openings when it needed them most, Gruber said.

Beacon Health employs more than 2,000 registered nurses in part-time and full-time positions in its system, a spokeswoman said. These positions include bedside and other clinical and non-clinical roles. Gruber said the system has sometimes turned to temporary work or assigned extra shifts and overtime to fill its gaps.

“It’s not sustainable,” the CEO said. “We have amazing people stepping in, but it’s not something you want to do long term.”

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So Beacon is partnering with Ivy Tech Community College’s South Bend-Elkhart campus to tackle a challenge that industry experts say is contributing to the nation’s nursing shortage; lack of resources to teach all students interested in nursing careers.

Through a new partnership, called the Beacon Scholars Program, the Beacon Hospital System will cover the cost of classes and books, plus a living allowance, for up to 75 students per year for the next five years through the Ivy Tech’s nursing program.

The program will begin this fall and will support students in their efforts to earn a two-year nursing degree. Upon completion of the program, students are guaranteed placement at a Beacon Health facility.

Ivy Tech nursing students watch during their first day of classes Wednesday, January 19, 2022 at Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend

In return, Beacon will likely ask students to commit to three to five years working with the healthcare system. Although, Gruber said, the goal is to keep those nurses on board long after.

“Our hope is, obviously, once they get into it and love it, they’re there forever,” Gruber said.

Nursing program capacity increases

The coronavirus pandemic is straining an industry that was already feeling the pressure of a nursing shortage. A loss of nurses was expected before 2020 as more baby boomers leave the profession. But, as the omicron variant rages on, the industry has been hit with a culmination of challenges, Gruber said. Nurses retire, burn out and leave for other careers.

“It’s really a labor issue that’s built up over years,” the Beacon chief said. “And it will last beyond the pandemic.”

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According to the American Association of Colleges and Nursing, one of the biggest barriers to filling these positions is the lack of faculty, classroom space, or clinical resources needed to serve students.

A recent study by the association found that US nursing schools turned away more than 80,000 qualified applicants to bachelor’s and graduate programs in 2019 because of these limitations.

Jenny Shoemaker, director of marketing and communications for Ivy Tech, said the college traditionally receives far more applications for its nursing program than it has the capacity to serve. With a recent expansion of its nursing lab space, Shoemaker said, the South Bend-Elkhart campus was able to admit 150 students from 120 before the program expanded in 2020.

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Through this partnership, Beacon has committed to providing faculty instructors from its own system to help serve more students. The exact number of teachers provided will vary depending on the individuals schedule and ability to teach part-time versus full-time in any given term, Shoemaker said.

The college anticipates that it will be able to increase enrollment by 60% at the South Bend-Elkhart campus over the next five years through this partnership.

“Our hope is that as this unfolds, it becomes a model for other campuses and other healthcare systems,” Shoemaker said.

The scholarship provides support for adult learners

Beacon will select fellows accepted into the new program. Gruber said his team is looking for students who are passionate about learning, serving their community and caring for others. The program will emphasize applicants from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, especially adult learners and first-time students.

Ivy Tech nursing students look on during their first day of classes Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022 at Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend.

To sweeten the deal, Beacon will also be offering a cost of living allowance. The exact amount has yet to be determined, but organizers say they hope to cover some of the expenses, such as childcare, that might normally prevent adult learners from returning to school.

“It’s key to really finding potential candidates who would like to have the opportunity and the ability to do that from an academic perspective,” Gruber said. “You have to open up these new channels for people.”

Although the past two years in health care have been difficult, Gruber said he believes nurses can still find rewarding careers in the profession.

“If you derive great satisfaction from making a difference in someone’s life, health care is for you and nursing is for you,” Gruber said. “Yes, it is hard and it can be physically and emotionally difficult, but you will be recharged by these things because you will have the opportunity every day to impact someone.”

Email South Bend Tribune education reporter Carley Lanich at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @carleylanich.

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