A new building at St. Louis Community College will help the region address a shortage of nurses and other health care professionals.
The college officially opened its new Center for Nursing and Health Sciences on Friday. The $39 million facility is the first new building on the Forest Park campus in 20 years.
The four-level, 96,000-square-foot building includes simulation labs, classrooms, a teaching area, a dental clinic and a functioning operating room.
The demand is particularly high in St. Louis, where 19.1% of staff nursing positions are vacant, Chancellor Jeff Pittman said. That’s slightly higher than the statewide rate of 18%.
“We know there’s a shortage in all of the health care fields,” Pittman said. “Dental hygienists, dental assisting, sonography, radiology, all those programs that are going in this building. So the purpose of this building in a lot of ways was [to] begin to assist in meeting the workforce gap that’s created. We’re also expanding our programs at the other three campuses as well.”
Pittman said the college is starting a new nursing program at its Wildwood campus next fall.
According to a 2018 State of the St. Louis Workforce report, 38% of health care employers in the region indicated a shortage of skilled and knowledgeable workers. As a result, nearly half of health care employers hired less-experienced workers to fill those spots.
With an aging population, Pittman expects a more than 10% boost in health care jobs in the next decade.
“When you combine that increase with the number of jobs with the graying workforce that’s also in the health care industry, you have a really big number of individuals that are either retiring and leaving or just new positions that are needed, because of the aging population in general that will need more health care services,” he said.
About 800 health science students will use the building this year. Among those who are happy with their new surroundings is D’Aira Jackson, a first-year radiologic student.
“It gives us health sciences students something new, something fresh, something we can actually get acclimated in,” Jackson said. “Instead of having to share with other people and everything else.”
Enrollment at the college is growing. There is an 18-month waiting list for entry into the nursing program. Pittman said the old building was no longer conducive to the program’s needs.
“The old building itself just wasn’t functional enough to put in the state-of-the-art technology that’s needed in today’s health care programs,” he said. “So structurally this building was needed not only for the type of equipment that’s in it, but for the additional space that we can dedicate to our health care programs.”
Pittman said the college has plans to hire more faculty for health care programs within five years.
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