May 12, 2022

Quarter-billion dollar grant could turn SETX into healthcare hub

Precipitating an estimated $260 million potential health care investment that would establish a broader and more efficient nursing pipeline from local colleges directly to hospitals in Southeast Texas, the United States Economic Development Administration ( EDA) selected a coalition of Lamar institutions and local hospitals as finalists. for its “Build Back Better” grant competition.

According to EDA Deputy Secretary Dennis Alvord, who visited the Port Arthur campus on April 22, the Build Back Better Regional Challenge Grant represents the largest grant competition ever held by the EDA to commend the region for its finalist status and take note of the feedback on the process. He also insisted that his presence should not be taken as a sign that the EDA will select the region for funding.

Granted by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, $1 billion of this fund has been allocated to the Build Back Better Regional Challenge Grant to award up to $100 million to address regional issues and create peace. economic growth.

The grant competition asked applicants to define their own geographic region in need, identify an industry in that area negatively impacted by COVID, and then formulate a plan for how federal funding will help that particular workforce – not only return to its pre-pandemic prosperity, but “Build Back Better.”

“This is what the whole of the United States started with. There were 529 applications, everyone with a totally different region and a totally different idea,” said Ben Stafford, vice president of workforce development and continuing education at Lamar State College Port Arthur ( LSCPA). “There were 35 in Texas – it was the most active state to apply for. From Texas, two finalists were chosen.

Led by LSCPA, coalition members include Lamar University, Lamar State College Orange, Deep East Texas College and Career Academy, CHRISTUS Southeast Texas Health Systems, Baptist Hospital of Southeast Texas, Southeast Texas Medical Center, and Riceland Health Services. The coalition includes every nursing provider or educator and every major medical facility in a 5,000 square mile area of ​​urban and rural Texas.

The coalition proposed to address the “devastating” shortage of nurses in Southeast and Far East Texas by increasing program capacity among colleges that offer nursing and pre-nursing education and increasing clinical space for nurses in non-profit hospitals. For-profit hospital partners will agree to offer more nursing internships and open facilities that were not historically used for clinical nursing education.

“People are dying”

In an exclusive interview with The Examiner, Stafford said he thought their straightforward proposal had a strong chance of being selected for funding.

“You can’t be in a college or a hospital right now and not realize the dire state of health care in our area. Literally people are dying,” Stafford said. “At any given time, hospitals in Southeast Texas are about 10% understaffed and we’re spending about $100,000 per month per facility on traveling nurses. This is because Houston is a huge void for the students we train. They can go there and make more money while staying close to home.

During the pandemic, city hospitals have gone from 10% understaffed to 25% and 30% under minimum staff, Stafford described, adding, “That’s why people are waiting in the hallways — they can’t open. units because they can’t call on nurses. equip units to code. So you go to the ER, and they put you on a bed in the hallway and say, “We’re waiting for a room to open.” And they are; they are waiting for a room to open. But without nurses, you can’t open these rooms.

Lamar institutions have been undersized for decades, according to the grant proposal, leading schools to turn away up to 28% of qualified nursing applicants due to a lack of space. LSPCA’s LVN program regularly admits up to 100 nursing students per year into its program, which means about 38 qualified students are rejected each year, Stafford explained, while LU’s BSN program rejects up to 60 students for 100 admitted.

“There’s no shortage of Texans wanting to become nurses,” said Dr. Cindy Zolnierek, CEO of the Texas Nurses Association. “Up to 40% of qualified applicants are turned down each year. Addressing the shortage of clinical space by providing strong infrastructure through committed academic-practice partnerships promises a lasting solution to a real and important problem.