KANSAS CITY, Mo. – As educators respond to the demand for more health care workers, Avila University officials said they hope to soon join the ranks of schools that have upgraded and expanded their training facilities.
Officials at the Catholic university in south Kansas City this month announced gifts that ultimately could provide $2 million toward a project that would include an upgrade to Avila’s Science & Health Complex.
The university received a gift from the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet and also a challenge grant from the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation in Tulsa, Okla.
The university is more than two-thirds of the way toward the $9.4 million it needs to raise by April to meet the Mabee challenge.
Sister Marie Joan Harris, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said officials hope construction begins in late spring.
“Our intention is to start the minute school is out,” she said. “It will be a busy summer and we will hold our breath” that it gets done by the time classes resume for the 2014-15 school year.
Upgrades are planned to the nursing clinical lab, including new simulation technology and a new study room for students.
The microbiology and chemistry labs will be modernized and an additional general science lab created in O’Rielly Hall. Harris said the renovations would increase the number of labs from five to seven.
The School of Science & Health offers undergraduate degrees for students pursuing a range of health professions, including medicine, pharmacy and dentistry. Avila also has undergraduate majors in radiologic science and kinesiology.
The school also includes computer science, and Harris said some of the school’s graduates have gone to work in health information technology at Cerner Corp.
She said 85 percent of Avila’s graduates remain in the area to work.
The university is looking to increase its full-time undergraduate enrollment by nearly 20 percent (to approximately 1,200 students) in the next three years, Harris said.
Nursing and pre-health majors are expected to make up a majority of those new students.
“That’s why we really need to expand our science facilities and our nursing facilities,” Harris said.
The Missouri Department of Economic Development has identified health care as an occupational “cluster” with potential for high growth.
The agency identified several health care occupations with historically high growth: registered nurses, medical assistants, pharmacy technicians, licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, nursing aides, orderlies and attendants, and dental assistants.
Missouri has 320 medically underserved areas or populations, according to the report, “and that number can only be expected to grow until the healthcare industry, (and) workforce and education policy makers take proactive measures to decrease the shortage of healthcare support occupations.”
Area community colleges are among the institutions that have taken steps to address the issue.
Three years ago, Metropolitan Community College (MCC)-Penn Valley opened its Health Science Institute at 34th Street and Broadway. The institute’s programs include those for nurses, pharmacy technicians and dental assistants.
In 2011, Johnson County Community College opened its Olathe Health Education Center on the grounds of the Olathe Medical Center.
MCC also is participating in a statewide program designed to retrain unemployed workers for health care jobs.
MCC Chancellor Mark James said the school has worked out transfer agreements with the four-year institutions in the area to ease students’ transitions to undergraduate degree programs.
As for Avila and its counterparts, he said, “I think they and others that are paying particular attention to these future needs make good sense.”
Even with the various local initiatives to produce health care workers, James said, “we are not anywhere near overrunning the demand.”