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Mon Health System, WV Junior College begin collaboration to train nurses at the hospital, address state nursing shortage

MORGANTOWN – Mon Health System and West Virginia Junior College inked a letter of intent on Monday to launch a first-of-its-kind nursing education program in the state.

In a collaborative move to address the state’s nursing shortage, WVJC’s nursing students will experience an accelerated 18-month program at the hospital and virtually, without setting foot in a classroom, WVJC and Mon Health said during the signing ceremony at Mon Health Medical Center.

Mon Health nurses will have joint appointments as WVJC lab and clinical faculty; and the students, along with digital coursework, will learn firsthand at bedside – what Mon Health System President and CEO David Goldberg calls patient-side.

WVJC CEO Chad Callen signs the letter of intent. Mon Health President and CEO David Goldberg and Mon Health Chief Nursing Executive Krystal Atkinson watch.

The collaboration, he said, will serve “to bring not only the best nurses to patient-side through Mon Health, but keep people in this community, grow our own, take care of our own neighbors, family members and friends, so we continue to be the best health care location in north-central West Virginia and improve our health care outcomes.”

WVJC CEO Chad Callen said health care across the state is struggling, with shortages at near crisis levels in some areas.

“Such challenges require bold thinking and innovative, out-of-the-box approaches,” he said.

The collaboration will allow Mon Health and WVJC to coordinate resources and expertise, align marketing and recruiting efforts, and align facilities, equipment and systems for a for more current, real-world experience.

The program plans to open enrollment in September 2022 and start its first class in April 2023.

And the collaboration is open to expansion, as integrating WVJC’s School of Nursing with Mon Health System is intended as the first step towards a broader workforce development partnership, they said.

Candy Powers, Mon Health’s chief revenue cycle officer, said not all health care jobs are clinical – hospitals require financial and operations staff, too. Both areas were hit by the pandemic and the “Great Resignation.” The two organizations aim to funnel WVJC students from billing and coding courses into positions at Mon Health, among other plans.

Mon Health System already has a career placement collaboration with WVJC for students completing their medical coding certifications, and offers shadowing opportunities and assists newly certified students with interviews across the system.

Mon Health and WVJC also work together to help those who are not yet certified with securing interviews in other departments, such as pre-access services, admissions and patient financial services.

Krystal Atkinson, Mon Health’s chief nursing executive, said the statewide and nationwide nursing shortage is not a new problem, but the pandemic amplified it.

When nursing instructors retire, she said, that limits the number of students who can enroll. Staff burdens and shortages also cause nursing burnout. Nationwide, the nursing shortage is estimated at 1.1 million positions. Programs like this “will certainly pave the way to decreasing that shortage.”

Legislators and other elected officials attended the ceremony. Speaking for the legislators, Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, also raised the nursing shortage issue.

“This is going to be a good program,” he said. “This is going to keep a lot of people employed in West Virginia. This is going to keep a lot of people healthy in West Virginia. The stress levels of nurses is absolutely through the roof and they’re working long, hard hours and we desperately need help.”

Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom praised the creative thinking that led to this agreement. “To see both of these working together, coming up with a solution that this community needs, that’s what speaks the best of West Virginia Junior College and Mon Health.”

Callen said that this is the first such collaboration for WVJC and later told The Dominion Post they’re looking at it across the state. “This is the way education has to change. It has to happen more tightly with the employees and not separately in some school.”

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