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Hartford HealthCare Partners With Eastern Connecticut State University to Address Nursing Shortage

July 11, 2023

Hartford HealthCare (HHC) and Eastern Connecticut State University are joining forces to tackle Connecticut's nursing shortage by establishing a partnership aimed at increasing the number of healthcare professionals in the region. The collaboration centers around Eastern's new Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and includes the construction of a cutting-edge simulation facility at Windham Hospital. Connecticut faces a significant nursing shortfall, with all nursing programs combined graduating fewer than 2,000 nurses each year, according to the Governor's Workforce Council. However, the state requires an estimated 3,000 nurses annually to meet post-pandemic staffing demands. The Eastern-HHC partnership seeks to bridge this gap by establishing a comprehensive nursing program at Eastern, benefiting the entire region. Rocco Orlando, chief academic officer for HHC, emphasized the significance of the collaboration, stating, "This is a true joint venture. This is the only nursing program we're supporting from the ground up... Eastern Connecticut is the least populous part of the state. The nursing shortage is most profound there." Eastern's Bachelor of Science in Nursing program is set to commence in the fall of 2023, with ongoing admissions allowing students to apply for the upcoming semester. Eastern President Elsa Núñez expressed her excitement about the program, stating, "I am thrilled about the launch of our new Bachelor of Science in Nursing program and pleased that we have Hartford HealthCare as our working partner on this initiative. With their support, our students will train in a new simulation facility in Windham Hospital and receive invaluable clinical placements as they prepare for professional nursing positions. Together we will be a part of the solution to the nursing shortage while preparing dozens of students for rewarding, meaningful careers." Eastern’s proximity to Windham Hospital makes it an ideal location for the nursing program, offering students convenient access to necessary simulation and clinical experiences to acquire their nursing credentials. "We looked at the synergies and adjacencies of our two campuses, just two blocks apart,” said Orlando. “Simulation space was the only limiting factor (for Eastern). We're happy to provide that space." The simulation lab at Windham Hospital is currently in the planning and design phase, with groundbreaking expected soon. The facility will include multiple rooms that replicate various clinical settings, from bedside nursing to critical care, and feature state-of-the-art mannequins capable of simulating a variety of clinical scenarios. “We are excited to be working with Hartford Healthcare and their Center for Education, Simulation and Innovation (CESI) to provide Eastern nursing students with the clinical simulation experience that they need,” said Amy Bataille, chair of the Department of Health Sciences and Nursing. “This high-fidelity simulation will allow Eastern nursing students to practice patient assessment and a variety of clinical procedures in a challenging, low risk environment. We are very fortunate that Eastern students will have convenient access to this state-of-the-art facility.” The cost of the simulation facility will be shared by Eastern and HHC, ensuring that Eastern has all the necessary resources for a comprehensive nursing program while also providing valuable simulation space for existing HHC staff. Windham Hospital President Donna Handley expressed her excitement for the new lab and partnership, stating, “The simulation lab at Windham Hospital will provide immersive and hands-on learning experiences for nursing students where they can practice nursing skills, critical thinking, decision-making and bedside manner behavior all while in a controlled environment.” Eastern’s nursing program received a $1.2 million grant from the CT Health Horizons initiative, a $35-million state effort aimed at addressing the nursing shortage in Connecticut. In addition to supporting a portion of the Windham Hospital buildout, the grant will fund three new faculty positions at Eastern and establish three smaller clinical skills labs on campus — including a maternity room, two-bed hospital room and examination room — set to open this fall. Connecticut currently experiences a nursing deficit of 33%, with 1,000 positions going unfilled each year, according to data from CT Health Horizons. Furthermore, due to a lack of faculty and clinical placements, the state's nursing programs can currently accept only 25% of qualified students. Bill Salka, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, emphasized the significance of Eastern's nursing program, stating, "Eastern's nursing bachelor's degree fills an important void in Connecticut, and especially in eastern Connecticut. Our hope is that by educating nurses here and giving them a good clinical experience, they will stay in the region and create a pipeline for the local shortage." Eastern's new four-year baccalaureate degree in nursing will follow a cohort-based model, with the first group of students enrolled in the upcoming fall semester progressing through the program together. The program's curriculum will include courses in biology, chemistry, human anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and nutrition for nursing. Specialty areas will encompass maternal and newborn care nursing, geriatric nursing, psychiatric and mental health nursing, and community and public health nursing. Upon completion of the degree, students will be eligible to take the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Licensing Examination–RN. The program aims to seek accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Connecticut State Board of Examiners for Nursing.