Southwestern Michigan College’s first 50 years produced 2,974 nurses.
From the very first graduation of 20 women from Dowagiac, Cassopolis, Edwardsburg, Marcellus, Decatur, Lawton, Berrien Center, Buchanan, South Haven and Paw Paw on Feb. 5, 1967, at Dowagiac’s Federated Church, nursing has been a flagship program.
An abstract statistic morphed into real people during President Dr. David Mathews’ father’s hospitalization before Dr. Fred L. Mathews died March 19.
As Mathews told Dowagiac Rotary Club, “At my father’s funeral I told how the very first nurse we encountered at Lakeland Hospital in St. Joseph was an SMC nursing graduate. Over the next 10 days, about half the nurses who cared for him were SMC nursing graduates. When he enrolled in hospice in the hospital, the hospice nurse was an SMC nursing graduate.
“After I told that story at his funeral,” Mathews said, “the pastor came to the podium and said his sister was an SMC nursing graduate.”
Mathews’ guests at Elks Lodge 889 May 18 included his mother, Thelda, and SMC Foundation President Ginny Crawford.
The foundation, which raises student scholarship support, is tackling its first major gifts initiative to complete the Nursing and Health Education Building breaking ground in July for fall 2018.
“This project costs $9.6 million, including a couple million dollars worth of technology,” Mathews said. “The State of Michigan granted us $4 million. We saved $3 million over the last five years. We need help raising $2.6 million. This is a great project to invest in for the good of the community.”
Fred Mathews’ vision “was for a very comprehensive community college meeting local employers’ needs for a workforce,” Mathews said. “Also, to provide an affordable way for people, as he did, to step out of poverty through higher education. The tremendous breadth of our programs leads to 44 of Michigan’s 50 hottest jobs.”
After SMC guts the 12,047-square-foot 1970 facility south of the David C. Briegel Building, it will be rebuilt to 29,086 square feet with a glass atrium across the front facing residential halls where 400 students live.
That open area running east to west is for student/faculty interaction outside classroom instruction.
The project “allows us to double the size of our ACEN-accredited nursing program,” Mathews said, “and add another health-related occupation. We’re analyzing occupational therapy assistant and physical therapy assistant.
“It houses not only our nursing program,” he said, “but also medical assisting, Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), medical billing/coding, phlebotomy and electrocardiogram (ECG) technician.
Going north toward Briegel, four simulation labs replicating hospital rooms branch to the right.
“Computerized mannequins moan, groan, throw up and birth babies,” Mathews said. “With pressure on hospitals to get patients in and out, it’s difficult nationally to find adequate clinical spaces. Nursing organizations came together and, after study, approved up to 50 percent of clinical instruction being done through simulation.
“When we put students through an OB rotation, say at Lakeland-Niles, that student might see one baby born. For liability reasons, seeing it is all they’re going to do,” he said. “A student in simulation can deliver 10 babies — five with any one of a number of frighteningly realistic difficulties to work through. More access to modern clinicals is one of the biggest factors driving this for us. The second is the ability to double the number of nurses. Hospitals tell us they love our nurses, they just want more of them.”
Two eight-bed skills labs provide students a place to practice inserting IVs, check blood pressure and perform total-body assessments.
SMC nursing students average 94-percent on the NCLEX, or National Council Licensure Examination — exceeding the 88-percent U.S. average.
“With this larger facility, we can do regional health-care provider seminars,” Mathews said. “This is the only time in my 20 years at SMC we ever built 10-percent bigger than needed. That’s not in our DNA, but we know we’ll be living in this building for the next 50 years. This project is very forward-looking.”
Besides serving on the committee which helped establish SMC, then chairing the Board of Trustees a national-record 50 years, Fred Mathews’ visionary leadership extended to $750,000 Rotary Villa, 24 units of subsidized senior citizen housing dedicated 30 years ago on July 19, 1987.
“When that (40-year) mortgage is paid, Dowagiac Rotary Club is going to be a major landlord with cash flow to do things because 30 years ago people invested time to do something for the next generation.
“Our nursing project is like that,” Mathews said. “We’re trying to position the college so the next generation has access to affordable, highest-possible-quality college education close to home. This is the last piece to our puzzle” after $8.6-million O’Leary and Daugherty building upgrades and three residence halls costing $7.5 million each.