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New Health Education Center Opens in Olathe

By Mike Sherry, HCF/KHI News Service, January 5, 2012

At 50,000 square feet, the new Olathe Health Education Center includes four simulation bays and an atrium study area for the Johnson County Community College students it serves.

And the center’s 29 teaching beds nearly triple the amount in the retrofitted office-park space formerly used by the college. Built of brick and stone, the $15 million facility sits on approximately six acres of donated property at the Olathe Medical Center.

But even as health educators highlight the physical upgrades in the technologically advanced building, which has a curriculum that ranges from phlebotomy to medical coding, they also point to the center as an example of the coordination among the region’s health science officials and area employers.

While planning the building, for instance, the health care faculty at Johnson County Community College learned from continuing education staff that area hospitals wanted some entry level aides with different skills than those of a certified nursing assistant, said Clarissa Craig, dean of the Health Care Professions and Wellness Division.

Certified nursing assistants are better suited for long-term care environments, Craig said, whereas so-called patient care assistants function well in the fast-paced hospital setting.

“It’s kind of a different patient interaction, family interaction, colleague interaction, and things like that,” she said.

So now, the college hopes to initiate pilot programs for patient care assistants this summer at Menorah Medical Center and Olathe Medical Center.

That the pilots would take place outside the Olathe Health Education Center, Craig said, illustrates the detailed planning that went into deciding what programs the new facility would house.

“It was a very rewarding conversation to have and to work with the Olathe Medical Center staff,” she said. “They were interested in not just what the Olathe Med Center’s needs were, but really what the community needs were. We looked at national data, we looked at local data, we looked at the Olathe Med Center data, and we kind of looked at what the gaps were.”

Mike Jensen, chief operations and development officer for the Olathe Health System, said in an e-mail that officials there were “extremely proud” to have the facility on the medical center campus.

“We are committed to continuing to hire the best and the brightest,” he added, “and we are confident that our close proximity and participation in hands-on education will help us achieve that goal.”

Craig’s discussions extended beyond Johnson County, said Sandy McIlnay, director of health science at Metropolitan Community College’s Penn Valley Campus.

She, Craig and other health science educators coordinate programs and services through regular meetings of the Bistate Health Education Consortium, which began nearly two years ago as construction started on the Olathe Health Education Center and Penn Valley opened its new $27 million Health Science Institute at 3444 Broadway in Kansas City, Mo.

Representatives from numerous institutions participate in the working group, McIlnay said, including the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Kansas, the University of Central Missouri and Avila University. The institutions want complementary programs that meet employers’ needs while not pitting their students against each other for jobs and internships.

“We don’t need to be graduating a bunch of students who can’t find employment,” she said. “We don’t want duplication of effort, because in this economic climate, it doesn’t make sense.”

Courses aim to produce workforce-ready workers for employers that don’t have time for on-the-job training, McIlnay said. Moreover, she said, students want quick training so they can start earning money.

“Stackable” is the buzzword, she said, where students increase their earning potential by building upon education and work experience along the way. For instance, they can start in an eight-week program and come out earning maybe $12 an hour as a certified nursing assistant. Then, they can progress to becoming a licensed practical nurse, then to an associate’s degree and on up the educational ladder.

“So it’s not like you are wasting all your time and starting all over again every time you want to advance,” McIlnay said.

Or, as Craig said, these new teaching facilities can prepare students for work in emerging disciplines like the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders. That’s one area where Johnson County Community College has improved its offerings through the Olathe Health Education Center.

Craig said virtually every hospital in the area now has sleep beds or is in the process of developing some or affiliating with a sleep center, a leap from even five or six years ago when sleep disorders were handled by respiratory therapists or other practitioners.