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Western’s planned nursing program gets a boost from $1.5 million grant

Western’s planned nursing program gets a boost from $1.5 million grant

“We understand this is just the beginning.”
– Emily McMahill, Ferchau Lecturer in Biology

Western Colorado University’s plan to build a program to recruit and train nurses to work in rural settings got a big boost Wednesday, March 20. The Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) announced the University would receive more than $1.5 million in a Phase 2 grant from the Opportunity Now Colorado Grant Program to implement the plan over the next 33 months.

The grant, which comes on the heels of a $50,000 planning grant Western received from the same fund in May 2023, will be instrumental in funding the ambitious project to establish the Western Slope’s newest nursing program, focused on the unique challenges and needs of rural populations.

“Western Colorado University’s faculty are dedicated to increasing the health care workforce needs of our community and country,” Western Provost Dr. Jessica Young said. “This grant enables Western faculty to educate a new generation of nurses who will support health care needs in the Gunnison Valley and throughout Colorado.”

The Opportunity Now program aims to fund both new and proven programs that “seed transformative change,” according to OEDIT, specifically through intentional alignment and collaboration between Colorado’s colleges and workforce. The grant requires a partnership between Western and at least one industry partner.

A student takes a community member's blood pressure.

“We are incredibly excited about the opportunity to partner with Western to help bring a nursing school to our community,” Gunnison Valley Health CEO Jason Amrich said. “We look forward to helping develop the next generation of nurses who have a passion for Rural Health and who we hope will provide exceptional care to our community members. We enjoy such a strong relationship across many other initiatives with Western, and this is the next great step in the partnership between our two organizations.”

Western’s proposed program will address critical healthcare disparities in the Gunnison Valley and rural communities across Colorado by implementing an innovative approach to training and education.

“The outpour of support has been thrilling! Colleagues, current students, prospective students, people at Gunnison Valley Health, and the community at large have voiced excitement about the initiation of a nursing education program at Western,” Ferchau Lecturer in Biology Emily McMahill said. “Although we are thrilled to receive this funding, we understand this is just the beginning. Creating the nursing education program we have envisioned will require dedication, hard work, and innovation. Thanks to a dedicated group of individuals, I feel confident we are up to the task!”

The implementation phase, set to begin as soon as the funding is received, will involve hiring new faculty and developing program infrastructure, including state-of-the-art training facilities like a simulation lab where students can develop their nursing skills before they start their clinical rotations. The goal is to recruit 20 students each year for the program, bringing in a total of 80 students by the time the program is full.

“A nursing program at Western has been a long time coming. The seed grant from the Opportunity Now Colorado program will allow us to turn that vision into a reality,” Professor of Exercise & Sport Science Lance Dalleck said. “Without a doubt, introducing an innovative blend of nursing programs at Western is going to transform the landscape of health care across the Gunnison Valley and the Western Slope.”

About Opportunity Now: With the passage of HB22-1350 (now called Opportunity Now Colorado), Colorado legislators and Governor Polis created the Regional Talent Development Initiative to fund new and proven programs that connect Coloradans to in-demand, high-skill, high-wage occupations. Learn more at opportunitynow.co.

Author Credit: Seth Mensing

Photo Credit: F4D Studio

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