When U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., toured Southwestern Michigan College in April 2017, he reviewed preliminary drawings envisioning the $9.6-million Nursing and Health Education Building.
Cass County’s congressman returned to the Dowagiac campus May 11 of this year with a good deal more to see. Construction started last fall and has proceeded all winter; the project will be completed in time for spring semester starting in January 2019.
“It’s awesome, really exciting,” Upton said, removing a hard hat, reflective vest and safety goggles donned for a personal tour with SMC President Dr. David Mathews. “It will really fill a need. (Nursing graduates) will have good jobs on day one.” Upton’s own family demonstrates the increasing demands for assistance care which enables his parents — his dad is 94, his mom, 88 — to remain in their home.
The United States faces a shortage of 250,000 nurses by 2025 — largest in decades. “Hospitals are desperate for nursing help,” Rebecca Jellison, dean of nursing and health services, said. With national accreditation and above-average student pass rates on licensure exams, SMC stood out as one of the region’s best programs when it decided to double the size of its 1970 Nursing and Health Education Building.
Upton gathered with SMC administrators, a representative from Rockford Construction in Grand Rapids and architect Arvin Delacruz from Abonmarche Consultants in Benton Harbor in the David C. Briegel Building boardroom to view a video rendering of how the finished facility will look inside.
Upton helped the college obtain hospital beds through Stryker Corp., the Kalamazoo-based medical technologies firm. The project will add skill labs and simulation labs with controlled scenarios before students experience real emergencies. The expansion will allow SMC to accept more than 40 students each spring and fall, add new health care programs such as occupational therapy assistant or physical therapy assistant and better prepare graduates for health care industry demands. CNA (certified nursing assistant) and medical assisting will have their own designated areas.
“All building renovations we’ve done include intentional technology-rich, student-faculty collaboration areas where students sit together in groups near faculty offices where a lot of teaching goes on,” Mathews said. “Programmable lab robots will allow for repetitive birth simulation, for example, arguably giving our students an experience somewhat better than a traditional clinical, where they might see just one being born during their entire rotation. The national standard now is up to 50 percent of nursing clinical training being replaced by simulation labs, which takes some pressure off hospitals. Seminar rooms can also be used by area health care providers for continuing education.”
“We’ve been dealing with opioids a lot the past couple of weeks,” Upton noted, mentioning a Detroit Free Press report, “The tiniest addicts: How (Upper Peninsula) babies became part of the opioid epidemic” about newborns hospitalized for drug withdrawal at the highest rate in Michigan.
“We will have pediatric simulators, too” Jellison added. “We will create scenarios to triage with our students so they’re prepared when patients present with those issues.”
Upton, from St. Joseph, has been representing what is now southwest Michigan’s 6th congressional district since 1987.