New nursing education program planned for Martha’s Vineyard

The Martha's Vineyard Hospital would benefit from the new program. — File photo by Nelson Sigelman

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) on Martha’s Vineyard will soon have the opportunity to become registered nurses (RNs) through courses offered on the Island through Cape Cod Community College (CCCC). The community college plans to launch a new local LPN to RN transition program later this year in collaboration with the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (MVH), Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and the Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA).

CCCC officials will hold information sessions at 11 am and 5 pm on Tuesday, January 8, in the library conference room at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Anyone who is interested or might be interested in CCCC healthcare courses, especially its LPN to RN transition program, is encouraged to attend one of the sessions and is under no obligation to enroll, according to a press release.

Advisors from the college will also be available throughout the day to talk to prospective students on an individual basis about the program, course schedules, testing, and financial aid.

“This is the perfect opportunity for anyone interested in exploring the program to meet with both on-Island and College representatives, and have any questions answered,” the press release said. “Additional academic testing and advising sessions are expected to be held later in the year, but the quicker individuals set their plans, the better prepared they will be to enter the program when it launches later in the year.”

Attending an information session now is important so that prospective students may take advantage of the upcoming spring and summer semesters to complete any needed preparatory classes before entering the formal program, CCCC advises. The community college plans to offer refresher courses and further academic testing on the Island to assist those who have been away from school for a while.

Maintaining adequate staff levels for patient care personnel has been an ongoing challenge for Island healthcare agencies, as MVH, Windemere and VNA administrators will attest. Getting people educated on the Island so that they can stay here to live and work has been a goal for all of them, and it inspired their formation of a Health Care Education Collaborative.

“Certainly my ultimate goal and what would be amazing would be to do a full-fledge RN program here,” VNA Clinical Director Sandie Corr-Dolby, RN/BC, said in a phone call with The Times yesterday. “But we have to start downstream from that first and get not only the LPN to RN fast track program but also general education courses.”

Ms. Corr-Dolby said the Island task force would meet with CCCC president John Cox and other college staff members Friday to work out the LPN to RN program’s final details.

“The difficulty is that we have a lot of LPNs on the Island that are interested, but a lot of them are at different stages and are all over the spectrum,” Ms. Corr-Dolby said. “The most important thing to me is to help people get started.”

Susan Maddigan, CCCC’s dean of health sciences and social sciences, has been helpful in working with Island LPNs to get the program going, she added.

“The college is very committed to getting a hold of everybody where they are and making sure we can meet their needs,” Ms. Corr-Dolby said. As one example, since there is no laboratory on the Island equipped with hoods, which is necessary for some of the coursework nurses need, CCCC has negotiated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to use one of its laboratories for the program.

“They’re trying to take away all the barriers for someone who can’t afford to keep a car on the other side, pay for a car reservation or spend three or four hours driving somewhere,” Ms. Corr-Dolby said. “A student could take the 3:45 pm boat, walk to the lab, and go home that night.”

Windemere led the way in 2007 in on-Island healthcare education efforts with an innovative tuition-free ten-month training program that enabled nine employees to complete courses to become LPNs. The idea for the Island LPN program grew out of efforts to staff Windemere and MVH.

For Windemere, filling the labor gap required the use of six so-called “travelers,” contract LPNs hired from off-Island at great additional expense for the nursing home. Windemere administrator Ken Chisholm was seeking to reduce Windemere’s reliance on contract LPNs. He also hoped to offer educational advancement for employees unable to attend school on the mainland and to provide a nursing career path for Island high school graduates who want to remain on the Vineyard.

At the suggestion of department of workforce development field supervisor Michael Corcoran, Mr. Chisholm applied for a state Workforce Training Fund matching grant. Windemere received $104,974 to fund the LPN program, offered through Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School (UCCRTS).

Windemere served as the Martha’s Vineyard campus, with additional classroom space provided at the regional high school. By working part-time or per diem at Windemere or Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the program’s nine students were eligible for free tuition if they committed to working two years at either institution once they became LPNs. As part of the workforce training grant’s match requirement, Windemere paid the housing costs for the instructor, maintained benefits for the students, and provided paid time off for them from their jobs to attend classes.

The program was offered again in 2008 to another class of nine students. Since the program had fulfilled Windemere’s goal to become “traveler” free and provided LPNs needed at the hospital, it was discontinued the next year.

“There’s been a collaborative of healthcare education leaders here that have been meeting for probably four years now, trying to bring education to the Island,” Mr. Chisholm told The Times in a phone call yesterday. “For those of us in healthcare, education is most important for us.”

Mr. Chisholm said Windemere’s staff development director Lorna Andrade led the charge.

“We’d been looking to somebody to help us bring education to the Island, and John Cox, the new Cape Cod Community College president, has expressed an interest in making this happen, so we’re taking that first step,” he explained. “Seeing how many of our LPNs from our program have been successful, we’d like to give them the ability to take the next step to become an RN, and to do it on the Island for the most part. We’re very excited about the new program and appreciate the fact that John [Cox] was able to show leadership in bringing healthcare education to the Island.”

Mr. Chisholm said that depending on future needs, the program might be offered again sometime.