Health professions center spotlights WCC's community partnerships

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 26, 2013 

Whatcom Community College’s new Health Professions Education Center, which allows students to work in labs that simulate workplace conditions, opened in fall of 2013.

WHATCOM COMMUNITY COLLEGE — COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Students enrolled in Whatcom Community College's Health Professions programs started this academic year in a new building with state-of-the-art classrooms and labs that will prepare graduates to successfully enter the workforce. Construction of the college's Health Professions Education Center was completed in an impressive one-year timeframe thanks to a public-private partnership that may serve as a template for other higher education projects and that illustrates the importance of community support for higher education institutions such as Whatcom.

The Health Professions Education Center is a great example of the type of support Whatcom is fortunate to have in our community. In this day and age, when the state can't always provide funding, communities must come together to find solutions to local needs. This spirit of collaboration made this project the remarkable success that it is.

At Whatcom, programs are developed in response to the needs of local businesses, non-profits and government agencies. Acknowledging demographic trends and demand for well-trained healthcare professionals, college administrators spent years trying to identify capital funding for new instructional spaces and high-tech equipment. Aware of the need, leaders of the WCC Foundation - the college's non-profit fundraising entity - and developers Dawson Construction, Blossom Management Corporation and Integrated Real Estate Management Inc., crafted an innovative and efficient collaboration. The resulting agreement leases the building to the foundation, which subsequently sub-leases it to the college. Continuing this model of local initiative, the WCC Foundation is raising funds to purchase the building and to acquire additional equipment. I am grateful to the foundation and to our local partners for the support that enabled us to quickly address this community need.

The 96,000-square-foot project site at the corner of Stuart Road and Cordata Parkway includes the two-story, 28,501-square-foot Health Professions Education Center and 134 parking spaces. The college is renovating on-campus classrooms and labs formerly used by the health programs for other academic disciplines, including Whatcom's acclaimed cybersecurity program. Once again, I am grateful for the support of the WCC Foundation, which is raising funds to support the cybersecurity program expansion. The Health Professions Education Center's potential phase two would add a 13,000-square-foot building to the site. The current building includes classrooms, labs and offices for Whatcom's state- and nationally accredited programs in nursing, physical therapist assistant, massage practitioner and medical assisting. Interiors were designed to replicate the healthcare environments in which students will work and provide as close to a real-world experience as possible.

For instance, nursing students refine skills by practicing techniques on lifelike mannequins in simulation labs that resemble a hospital room. The mannequins feel real to the touch, make lifelike breath and abdominal sounds and respond to clinical choices. Physical therapist assistant students practice in a lab space that replicates both the out-patient clinic and the inpatient settings where physical therapy is practiced such as hospitals or extended care facilities. Students in the medical assisting program practice procedures in a setting that mirrors a modern medical office, including a waiting area, reception and private patient consultation rooms. Massage practitioner students practice massage on each other in the labs throughout the program and perform massage on clients drawn from the public in a clinic setting during their final quarter.

In addition to elevating instruction and providing much-needed space relief for Whatcom's growth, the center will allow us to expand community partnerships, including continuing education for health professionals, middle- and high-school career awareness, paramedic skills training, and disaster training and preparation.

The Health Professions Education Center represents an investment in our students. And, based on the programs' historic success, it's an investment that will bring strong returns for our community. Graduates consistently exceed national average pass rates on professional licensure exams. In fact, 100 percent of Whatcom's 2012 nursing, physical therapist assistant and massage practitioner graduates who tested passed national licensure exams. Employment rates for graduates are strong at 95 percent. That number will climb as healthcare professionals retire and our population increases and ages.

The construction of the Health Professions Education Center is an important milestone for the college - not solely because of the building itself - but because of the collaboration that made it a reality. Thank you to everyone who made this project possible.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathi H. Hiyane-Brown became the fourth president of Whatcom Community College in 2007.

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