Southern Vermont College will also open its four-year nursing program to SVHC nurses with associate's degrees.
BENNINGTON, Vt. — The demand for registered nurses is expected to grow by at least a quarter over the next decade or so — and the state is looking at 3,000 vacancies.
"I sit on the Vermont Business Roundtable," said Thomas Dee, president and CEO of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, on Tuesday. "They see the crisis that's brewing: 3,000 vacancies in nursing positions in Vermont. It's a big number ... it's a huge number.
"So what we're saying is 'how do we get ahead of that curve?'"
One way is growing the ranks of nursing professionals through a collaborative effort with Southern Vermont College down the road. On Tuesday, the two institutions announced an affiliation that will create a pipeline for nursing students and provide opportunities for SVHC employees to further their educational opportunities.
The health care system, which operates Southern Vermont Medical Center, will affiliate with the college's four-year bachelor of nursing program. The two entities will have some crossover in administrative titles and will provide the clinical setting for the program's students.
Mary Botter, who has been the head of the nursing program, is now also going to be the chief nursing officer at SVHC and Sheila Boni, who's been an instructor at SVC and employed in administrative roles at SVHC, will be the associate chair of the nursing program and associate chief nursing officer at the hospital.
"So the two top-level nursing executives at the hospital will also be part of our program," David Evans, president of the private college, said. "So we're also hoping to help create opportunities for more see SVHC staff to be clinical instructors by providing professional development for them."
There are several layers to the collaboration, including attracting college-bound seniors and have them successfully complete the course, have jobs ready for them at SVHC and provide tuition relief over a period of years.
"The goal really, in addition to securing excellent nurses for SVHC, is regional economic development," Evans said. "Getting the young professionals to come to Bennington and establish themselves and create opportunities for local students who may have thought they couldn't afford college ... to be able to enter into the pipeline, if they would like, to establish themselves here to continue to live in the area."
Dee said the average age of the health-care system's registered nurses is 55, a looming hiring dilemma with up to 40 positions that will have to be filled in the near future.
"We think it's a great opportunity to partner and do something very creative that very few hospitals of our size across the country are doing," he said. Forming a collaboration with an academic partner means the hospital can work with the college on curriculum and create a pathway for future employees — whose education tab could be picked up by SVHC. "So it's kind of a win-win for for us, for the college and for the students."
The affiliation will also eventually allow for an expansion of educational opportunities in the health care field.
"I think there's lots of potentials," said Botter. "We're just at the very beginning and we're focusing initially on nursing and it will be bigger than that over time. One of the important things to think about workforce development is we have many many nurses at SVHC who have associate's degrees but do not yet have their bachelor's degrees and a goal across the nation is to increase the percentage of nurses with bachelor's degrees and so this affiliation and program is designed in part ... to provide the opportunitiy for those nurses to get their bachelor's degree here at Southern Vermont College."
Nurses with associate's degrees will be able to pursue their bachelor's degree with the health-care system covering the cost; SVHC has also worked out an agreement with the college that will allow the family members of the system's employees to attend any program offered at Southern Vermont at a reduced rate.
Dee said it's all part of the health care system's Vision 2020 plan, "which talks about us building partnerships and really changing, transforming, how we do business and prioritize sustainability."
SVHC is also in partnership with the larger Dartmouth-Hitchcock health care system in New Hampshire, as well as being involved in Bennington's downtown initiative.
"It's all part of how can we leverage the resources in our area to accomplish something that we could never do on our own," he said. "We need them to make this work."
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