The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

October 29, 2012

Grant game changer for health care delivery

Guest Column

Dr. Ted D. Spring

— The legislature created the West Virginia Community and Technical College system in response to the need for flexible workforce-focused training programs that could be established quickly and customized to meet the needs of employers.  

Anyone wondering whether the legislature made a smart move needs look no further than New River Community and Technical College. In less than 10 years, New River has gained a reputation for developing flexible and rapidly deployed training programs designed to meet specific requirements of business and industry in our region. The awarding of a $3 million federal grant to expand our health care offerings is just the latest example of how New River is truly meeting our mission of providing in-demand, just-in-time workforce training.

New River was one of only 27 community colleges in the nation and the only one in West Virginia to receive a single grant through the U.S. Department Community College and Career Training Program.   The success of our application hinged on a number of factors, including the large number of displaced workers in our region, the tremendous demand for skilled workers in the health care industry, the direct involvement of industry partners in our curriculum development process and our track record in delivering programs across wide geographic areas through technology-supported learning.

This grant is going to have a tremendous impact on health care in southeastern West Virginia, and it is also going to provide our students with career options that do not involve moving outside the area to get a good job. Funding from this grant will enable us to add an associate degree program in registered nursing.  

That’s great news, because there is a huge gap in the available training for RNs in our area. New River’s nine-county service region has the second lowest level of registered nurses per total population and the second lowest growth rate of registered nurses in the state. Now, graduates of New River’s School of Practical Nursing and other practical nursing programs in the area will have an accessible program to progress into should they want to become an RN.

The grant will also allow us to expand our popular medical assisting program. As part of that expansion, we are pleased that we will be taking over the accredited online medical assisting program formerly offered by Mountain State University.   

We can now strengthen and expand our other allied health certificate and degree programs including health information technology, phlebotomy technician, medical billing and coding and medical transcriptionist. And, in response to a needs assessment conducted by the Regional Healthcare Consortium, we will add programs in physical therapist assistant and occupational therapist assistant.  Directors have been hired for these programs, and pending approval from accrediting agencies, we anticipate the first classes will be offered in the fall of 2013. Other programs to be developed through the grant include associate degrees in medical laboratory technician, dietary technician and EMS/paramedic.

A dimension of the project that promises to greatly improve chances of student success in these programs is that funds will be available to expand our  developmental education and student support services. A significant number of our students have remedial needs. This funding will enable us to increase our developmental education faculty and create Student Success Centers on each campus that will give students access to both skilled advisors and high quality e-tools to help them make academic, career and personal choices to help them persist and complete their degree or certificate program.

This grant will effectively change the future of health care in our region. We are gratified that the federal government recognizes the critical need for these training programs, and we are extremely proud that New River is poised to meet that need with high quality programs, innovative delivery systems and outstanding faculty and staff. While finding adequate facilities in which to offer these programs is an ongoing challenge, I have no doubt that community leaders and others who value the mission of New River will ensure that our students have all the resources required to assure their success.

New River Community and Technical College serves Greenbrier, Fayette, Mercer, Monroe, Nicholas, Pocahontas, Raleigh, Summers and Webster Counties from campuses in Beckley, Ghent, Lewisburg, Princeton and Summersville.

(Spring is the president of New River Community and Technical College.)