Nursing program flatlines

Published 9:34 pm Friday, August 10, 2012

The end is in sight for a popular nursing program whose graduates have gone on to shape the face of medicine in Hampton Roads and beyond.

The voice mail message of Gwen Sweat, director of Suffolk Public Schools Sentara Obici Hospital School of Practical Nursing, told the story late Friday.

“You have reached the office of the School of Practical Nursing,” the message stated. “The school is not accepting applications and will be closing when the current class graduates in February of 2013. For all other information, leave a message and your call will be returned. Thank you.”

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A final push to find new funding to keep the school open after it was cut from the school district’s budget has failed.

District Assistant Superinten-dent Jacqueline Chavis told School Board members during a meeting Thursday that a special committee formed in May was unable to find new donors.

“In the end, it was very difficult,” but the committee “ultimately determined” that other funding sources were unavailable, she said.

The committee represented several different organizations, including Opportunity Inc., the Hampton Roads workforce development board; The Pruden Center for Industry and Technology; Paul D. Camp Community College; Tidewater Community College; the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority; the school district’s Career and Technical Education Office; Sentara Obici Hospital; and the School Board itself, school board representative Lorraine Skeeter said.

“Of course, when we began to look around, there was no specific person or organization” to fill the funding gap, she said. About $350,000 to $400,000 would have kept the program alive for another year, she added.

After unsuccessfully appealing to Opportunity Inc. and The Pruden Center, “we had nothing else to turn to, and we just had to make that decision,” she said.

The nursing program was founded in 1959 and counts generations of nurses and other medical professionals among its graduates and staff.

One of the committee’s objectives was to find, in lieu of a longer-term donor, enough funding to keep the doors open until Paul D. Camp Community College opens an LPN program in the next few years, according to Skeeter.

Felicia Blow, its vice president of institutional advancement, said Paul D. Camp is “investigating starting an LPN program” after securing funding to do so.

Plans are yet to be finalized, she said, adding, “There will be much more to comment on in the future.”

But with the state requiring a complicated approval process, “there are a lot of hurdles to overcome,” she said, and she was unable to comment on when a program could open.

Skeeter said the closure of the nursing school would cost about three jobs, including those of two instructors — one of whom has already found new work — and Sweat’s.