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August 20, 2018
Focus: Greater Bangor/Northern Maine

Northern Maine universities pursue ways to attract and keep more nurses in rural Maine

Photo / Courtesy UMFK
Photo / Courtesy UMFK
UMFK instructor Kate Long-Lozier (far left) oversees nursing students learning to feed a simulation mannequin through a feeding tube. University of Maine campuses in Fort Kent and Presque Isle are working together to train more nurses in response to the nursing shortage.
Photo / Courtesy Husson University
Husson University offers training to help meet the need for more nurses in Maine.

Two educational initiatives are underway to attract and keep more nurses in Maine, especially in the rural north.

In Aroostook County, the University of Maine campuses at Fort Kent and Presque Isle joined forces on an academic partnership unveiled in early August. In Bangor, Husson University is planning a $3 million Wellness and Learning Center, with construction due to start this fall. It's also adding a course designed to help nurses more effectively treat patients addicted to opioids.

All the institutions aim to help stave off a widening nursing shortage and increasing demand for healthcare in the state with the highest median age.

By 2025, the Maine Nursing Action Coalition warns of a shortfall of 3,200 jobs. To keep that from happening, experts at a University of Maine System summit last September called for boosting the number of new registered nurses licensed in the state by 400 a year, or 65% above the current capacity, and recruiting an additional 265 registered nurses a year into Maine.

While the workforce crisis is statewide, limited access to health care in less populated and prosperous pockets creates a stronger immediate need there.

A two-campus collaboration

Starting this fall, UMPI and UMFK will launch a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in Presque Isle.

UMFK, which has an existing program, will dispatch faculty members to UMPI about 60 miles to the south so that students unable to travel to Fort Kent can get a four-year nursing education in Presque Isle but get their degrees from UMFK.

"We really strive to keep costs down for students while providing access to quality education," says Erin Soucy, dean of undergraduate nursing at UMFK.

She adds that the idea for the partnership evolved about two years ago amid a growing trend of students commuting from further distances to Fort Kent, and its clinical practice partners in the area expressing a need for more nurses.

"One of our goals would be that we increase the nursing workforce in Aroostook County and throughout Maine," she says. "With this program, we can attempt to try to meet the demands of the nursing shortage."

Temporary lab space is being prepared at UMPI for an incoming class of 12 nursing students, while UMFK is expecting a first-year class of 121.

Permanent lab space and program and facility improvements are also planned, contingent on voter approval of a November referendum item that foresees more than $7 million in planned investments at UMFK and UMPI.

UMPI nursing students will spend all four years in Presque Isle, where they'll be taught by UMFK faculty and be counted as UMFK students their last two years. And for clinical placements in Aroostook County, the school will rely on four institutions that Soucy says have helped boost enrollment, namely Cary Medical Center in Caribou; Houlton Regional Hospital; Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent; and the Aroostook Medical Center in Presque Isle.

UMFK also has an existing undergraduate nursing partnership with UMaine Augusta in which UMFK provides the curriculum in Augusta and online. In that program, students at the Augusta campus transition to UMFK after their first year, and do their clinical work mainly in central Maine. UMA expects an incoming fall class of 48.

Husson groundbreaking this fall

Husson, located in Maine's third-largest city, is also investing in its nursing program, which goes back to 1983 when what was then-Husson College matriculated its first nursing class. Today in cooperation with Eastern Maine Medical Center, Husson University offers bachelor's and master's degrees in a program that continues to see rising enrollment. The school expects an incoming fall class of 130 nursing students, a huge jump from 87 in fall 2018 and 65 the year before, according to John Champoli, Husson's vice president for enrollment management. More than three-quarters of the incoming class is from Maine, with others coming mainly from elsewhere in New England but from as far afield as Canada, Vietnam and Germany, he notes.

Husson is investing in nursing education on two fronts, starting with the $3 million Wellness and Learning Center — designed by SMRT Architects and Engineers and to be built by Nickerson & O'Day Construction — that will include four state-of-the-art simulation bays for hands-on training.

"With the growth in our enrollment numbers, we've expanded our use of simulation," says School of Nursing Chair Donna Beuk, adding that the new facilities will simulate an acute-care and inter-professional setting. There will also be a more structured approach to give students exposure not just at acute-care hospitals but in all types of settings "to ensure they get a well-rounded professional education."

On the academic front, Husson will add a course to its graduate and post-master's nursing programs core curricula that aims to help students understand social determinants of addiction and population health.

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