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WCU and Mission Receive $1 Million Grant for Nursing Care in Rural WNC

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

ASHEVILLE NC – A federal workforce diversity grant of more than $1 million will enable the School of Nursing at Western Carolina University to partner with Mission Health in an effort to increase the quality of nursing care provided to patients in rural Western North Carolina.

The funding marks the second $1 million grant awarded to WCU in the past year that is intended to improve the diversity and quality of nursing professionals in the region.

The latest grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will provide approximately $350,000 annually over a three-year period to create a program designed to increase the number of nurses with four-year degrees working in mountain hospitals and health care settings. The total amount of the grant, one of only 15 awarded nationally by the HRSA, is $1,049,000 over the three years.

The project will support development of nurses qualified as “advanced rural generalists” competent in meeting a variety of health care needs across diverse specialties and in different health care settings. The program will include courses addressing the unique health care needs found in the rural environment.

Research has found that the results of medical services are more successful when health care providers reflect the communities and the patients that they serve. Although the majority of nurses who work in rural health care facilities typically have grown up in rural communities, many of them lack the advanced levels of education and training necessary today, said Judy Neubrander, director of the WCU School of Nursing.

“In discussions with Mission Health, we recognized a need to increase the number of baccalaureate-prepared nurses in rural areas of Western North Carolina,” Neubrander said. “We are delighted to be working with Mission Health and see this partnership as a win-win for the region by improving the quality of health care for patients in the region and increasing access to educational opportunities to those in the nursing profession.”

The project will focus on registered nurses with two-year degrees who are ethnic minorities and/or from economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds who work at the Mission Hospital campus in Asheville or at its rural affiliate hospitals – Angel Medical Center in Franklin, Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine, Highlands-Cashiers Hospital in Highlands, McDowell Hospital in Marion and Transylvania Regional Hospital in Brevard. It will provide scholarships, stipends and mentorship opportunities to allow them to receive the additional education and training offered by obtaining their bachelor’s degrees.

Participants in the project are expected to include people of African-American, Native American, Hispanic and Appalachian descent – segments of the population that typically seek advanced education at lower numbers than the rest of the population.

Titled the Western North Carolina RN to BSN Rural Education and Support (RN-BRES) Program, it is designed to benefit students and patients from across the region, said Vallire Hooper, manager for nursing research at Mission Health.

“This program will support the continued educational advancement of nurses across Western North Carolina,” Hooper said. “A more highly educated nursing workforce will ultimately lead to improved health care outcomes for our residents.”

Kathy Guyette, senior vice president for patient care, said that Mission Health is excited to partner with WCU to provide increased educational opportunities for the regional health care system’s nurses.

“This partnership will better enable us to provide community-based care that supports the goals of our BIG(GER) Aim initiative – to get each patient to the desired outcome, first without harm, also without waste and with an exceptional experience for the patient and family,” Guyette said.

A previous $1 million grant to WCU from HRSA is designed to increase the number of students from underserved rural populations, including members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who enter the nursing profession. That project, now in its second year, assists ethnically diverse and disadvantaged students from Andrews, Cherokee, Murphy, Robbinsville, Smoky Mountain and Swain high schools who are interested in nursing as a career.

WCU has been at the forefront of efforts to increase the number of nurses with bachelor’s degrees in North Carolina. The Regionally Increasing Baccalaureate Nurses Program – or RIBN – started as a partnership between WCU, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and the Foundation for Nursing Excellence six years ago. The program allows students to be dually accepted and enrolled in both the university and a community college. Since its inception, the program has expanded across the state, with seven universities and 30 community colleges now involved.

For more information about nursing education at WCU, visit the website nursing.wcu.edu. For more information about Mission Health, visit mission-health.org.                           

About Mission Health

Mission Health, based in Asheville, North Carolina, is the state’s sixth-largest health system and the region’s only not-for-profit, independent community hospital system governed and managed exclusively in Western North Carolina. Mission Health has been recognized as one of the nation’s Top 15 Health Systems 2012-2014 by Truven Health Analytics, formerly Thomson Reuters. Mission Health is the only medium-sized health system to receive this recognition three years in a row, and the only health system in North Carolina to achieve that distinction.

Mission Health, which traces its roots in the region back to 1885, operates six hospitals, numerous outpatient and surgery centers, post-acute care provider CarePartners, and the region’s only dedicated Level II trauma center. Its medical staff consists of more than 1,000 physicians and is certified in more than 50 medical specialties and sub-specialties. Mission Health has seven Centers of Excellence: Cancer, Heart, Mission Children’s Hospital, Neurosciences, Orthopedics, Trauma and Women’s Health. Mission Hospital, located in Asheville, is the system’s flagship hospital and is licensed for 795 beds. It is the regional referral center for tertiary and quaternary care. It also includes Mission Children’s Hospital – the region’s only children’s hospital. Other Mission Health member hospitals include Angel Medical Center in Franklin, Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine, Highlands-Cashiers Hospital in Highlands, McDowell Hospital in Marion and Transylvania Regional Hospital in Brevard. With approximately 10,600 employees and 2,000 volunteers, Mission Health is dedicated to improving the health and wellness of the people of western North Carolina. For more information, visit mission-health.org or @MissionHealthNC.

About Western Carolina University

Western Carolina University is one of the 16 senior institutions of the University of North Carolina system. WCU enrolls more than 10,100 students in undergraduate and graduate programs of study and is located in Cullowhee, North Carolina, about 50 miles west of Asheville, North Carolina, near Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2014, WCU was founded in 1889 to bring higher education and career opportunities to Western North Carolina.

The university’s mission is focused on quality education and preparation for responsible citizenship in a changing world. Since its founding, WCU has grown in size to become a major cultural, scientific, and educational force in the region and the state. The university’s academic programs, which span more than 120 specialties, are housed in five colleges – Arts and Sciences, Business, Education and Allied Professions, Fine and Performing Arts, and Health and Human Sciences – and the Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology. Graduate programs are offered directly through each college and the Kimmel School, and the Graduate School coordinates the admission process, funding support, and awarding of degrees to graduate students. In addition, the Honors College coordinates courses and events in every area of study, and Hunter Library provides academic support for all academic units.