The RSCC is planning a center to address the region’s shortage of health workers
The RSCC is planning a center to address the region’s shortage of health workers

Students will train on computerized mannequins followed by clinical training with human patients

Before the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, a shortage of nurses and other health care workers had already affected Tennessee. The shortage worsened as the population grew and more people reached retirement age and required more care.

During and after the pandemic, there has been a mass exodus of healthcare workers, as one in four healthcare positions have been replaced. Too many were overwhelmed by too many demanding patients and bullying cases.

Some became travel nurses and left the state for a series of higher paying jobs. Other health care workers learned that they could earn higher pay at certain fast food restaurants.

Roane State Community College, which serves 10 counties in East Tennessee with its main and branch campuses, is nationally known for its health sciences programs for training registered nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapy assistants, paramedics and other emergency workers medical services.

Answer the call

One of the emergency response teams and other health workers in that region are trained by the RSCC, said Chris Whaley, president of the RSCC, in a recent conversation with the League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge. “When Covenant Health, the University of Tennessee Medical Center and Tennova asked us for more locally trained nurses for their hospitals, we said there is no place to physically house more students right now.”

“Our healthcare partners have asked for new programs like sterile processing, but we’ve told them we don’t have the physical space for such a new program, but that’s changing.”

With RSCC and other nursing schools turning away potential nursing students due to a lack of faculty, access to modern clinical training opportunities and space, Tennessee education, government and business leaders agreed on a solution. That solution: Raise $75 million for and build a sprawling Knox Regional Health Science Education and Simulation Center.

The goals of the new center, according to a brochure handed out to attendees at the League luncheon, are to “expand student access to health science education; meeting critical workforce needs in East Tennessee communities, including rural counties; and enhance the quality of patient care in East Tennessee.”

Whaley said each year Roane State graduates about 350 health science students from credit programs and issues certificates to 5,000 health care workers in its continuing education programs. But once the new three-story, 130,000-square-foot center is built adjacent to Park West Medical Center on Sherrill Boulevard and in front of Dead Horse Lake Golf Course, 700 nurses and other health care workers will be trained each year to help to meet the growing medical needs of the region.

“Our current building on the Knox County Health Sciences Campus, called the Knox County Health Sciences Center, is about 16,000 square feet,” Whaley said. This is one eighth of the area of ​​the planned facility.

“It’s near the big Jewelry Television campus. We are absolutely full,” he said.

Whaley said a more spacious facility will allow RSCC to add to its 20 health science programs that give college credit, the most recent being diagnostic sonography, “or as I call it, the ultrasound program.” He explained that the state has given Roane State the mission to teach health sciences not only at RSCC’s eight-county campuses, but also in Blount County and Knox County. While RSCC operates the Knox County Health Sciences Center for community college students interested in health careers, Pellissippi State College provides its Knox and Blount County students with courses in all other fields.

The State of Tennessee has committed $67.5 million, and Covenant Health has donated 10 acres of land to develop the Knox Regional Health Science Education and Simulation Center. Covenant Health operates many regional healthcare facilities, including Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville and Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge.

To complete the financing of the $75 million project, the Roan State Foundation initiated the “Thrive” campaign to raise $7.5 million from private donors. The goal is to raise $5 million to build, furnish and equip the facility and $2.5 million to provide scholarship support and aid for health sciences students. Although many students will receive tuition assistance from the Tennessee Promise scholarships, they will each need $1,500 to cover the cost of the supplies they must have, according to Scott Nierman, executive director of the Roane State Foundation.

Construction and management of the new center, which will enroll students from Knox and surrounding counties, will be led by RSCC in partnership with Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) Knoxville. TCAT’s health sciences programs at its 24 campuses train future practical nurses, nurse practitioners, operating room technicians (surgical technologists), medical and dental assistants, and medical office information technology workers.

Students will use computerized mannequins

The center will be the first of its kind in Tennessee because it will integrate classroom learning experiences, labs equipped with advanced technology and hospital-like rooms hosting simulations using mannequins, giving students more hands-on experience in patient care. than they might later enter their clinical training with human patients.

Victoria Battershall, director of the Knox Regional Health Science Education and Simulation Center, said the center will have computerized mannequins, each costing about $160,000, that will simulate health care scenarios. The mannequins, manufactured by Norway-based Laerdal Medical, are full-body patient simulators that mimic human anatomy and physiology and enable the safe teaching of clinical skills in a professional healthcare setting.

“The simulations involving mannequins at this center will never be a complete replacement for students getting real-world experience with patients in clinics,” she said. But because clinical spaces are valuable, she added, students can learn in simulated settings how to deal with health episodes they may never encounter in clinical training.

“We will be able to simulate cardiac episodes and even the birth of a dummy baby from a dummy mother in ways that will absolutely blow your mind,” Battershall said. “Our mannequins will have blinking eyes, breathing sounds, heart sounds and poop. He will respond to you verbally as we have programmed him to.”

Students can practice taking a mannequin’s temperature and blood pressure using simulated equipment that displays the numbers. They will learn to use medical equipment in a simulation hospital that features mannequins in an intensive care unit, two inpatient rooms and a three-bed emergency room that can be converted into a surgical suite. There will be a simulated patient bathroom, she said, to give students practice safely moving patients with mannequins from bed to shower and back again.

Using mannequins, Battershall said, the 11,000-square-foot Sim Center (as she calls it) will train future emergency medical technicians how to safely transfer an injured person from a car accident to a real ambulance and how to safely lower a patient from the second floor of apartment building to the ambulance using a stretcher or chair.

“We will teach emergency physicians how to deliver a simulated baby in the back of an ambulance,” she added.

Battershell said artificial intelligence will be used to simulate realistic scenes through videos made from 360-degree scans of various healthcare environments.

“If we’re doing critical care airlift training,” she said, “we want to make the room look like the back of a C-17 airplane while our EMT (emergency medical technician) student is working on a simulated patient.”

Whaley was portrayed as a leader who “understands that Roane State is a place that drives economic development by working closely with employers to offer relevant programs that meet employers’ workforce needs.” He noted that because of the industries in Clinton, RSCC emphasizes its mechatronics and advanced manufacturing courses at its campus there. Some courses at its Oak Ridge campus are “centered around what Oak Ridge is and what it does. We offer chemical technology and mechatronics and will have a new nuclear technology program.

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