Columbia College-Lake of the Ozarks' partnership with Lake Regional Hospital featured in Lake Sun newspaper

Sherrie Williams, R.N., BSN
Columbia College-Lake of the Ozarks was featured in the Jan. 27-28 edition of the Lake Sun newspaper for their longstanding partnership with Lake Regional Hospital. It will also run in the hospital's magazine, Vim and Vigor. Read the story here:

Growing Our OwnPartnership helps Lake Regional fill nursing positions

Aging baby boomers steadily have increased the demand for healthcare services throughout the past 10 years, contributing to a nationwide shortage of registered nurses.

“Nursing schools are straining to keep up with the demand,” says John Keeney, PhD, director of Columbia CollegeLake of the Ozarks. “Nationwide, schools lack the faculty, clinical sites, nurse preceptors and budget to train the needed workforce.”

Locally, that trend has been reversed thanks to an innovative collaboration between the college and Lake Regional Health System. Since it began in 2005, the partnership dramatically has reduced the hospital’s R.N. vacancy rates, as well as expenditures for agency nurses.

“In 2004, Lake Regional’s registered nurse vacancy rate was 10 percent,” says CEO Michael E. Henze. “We were spending more than $2.2 million annually on agency nurses to fill the gaps. We quickly realized the importance of creating a pipeline of local nurse graduates to fill the positions.”

Lake Regional donated funds to help Columbia College start the R.N. program, as well as supplies and equipment to create a skills lab. The hospital continues to help stock the lab, subsidizes instructor salaries and encourages Lake Regional staff to become clinical instructors.

Sowing the Seeds
Student nurses are required to complete clinical rotations at local hospitals as part of their training. The majority of local Columbia College students complete their clinical rotations at Lake Regional, which helps the students get acquainted with the organization and build relationships with staff.

“We work hand-in-hand with Columbia College to ensure the students receive a lot of personal attention,” says Sherrie Williams, R.N., BSN, a full-time nurse in Lake Regional’s Emergency Department who also serves as a clinical instructor for Columbia College. Williams teaches nursing fundamentals, like IV skills and safety, at the college and precepts students learning patient assessment and care during their hospital rotations.

Since the first class graduated in 2006, more than 200 nurses have completed the program, and nearly 90 of them have joined Lake Regional.

“A lot of students live in this area and want to stay here and work in this hospital,” Williams says. “We’ve seen them progress from starting a new career to being an experienced nurse, which means we know their skill level and how they will perform on the job. Our relationship with Columbia College helps ensure Lake Regional hires well-trained nurses who will be a good fit for our team.”

Consequently, the hospital’s R.N. vacancy rate has dropped below 2 percent, and agency nurse expenditures nearly have been eliminated.

“It benefits everyone,” Keeney says. “Local students can attend college locally and find good jobs in our community— that was the idea behind the program.”

Stacey Menke, R.N.
First Crop
Stacey Menke, R.N., is one of the nurses currently working at Lake Regional who benefited from the opportunity to receive education and employment close to home.

Menke had some prerequisites under her belt when she moved to the Lake of the Ozarks 19 years ago. When she learned Columbia College was starting a nursing program, she joined the first class, which graduated in July 2006.

Columbia College was the right choice for me because it was convenient and close to home,” she says.

A high-performer, Menke completed an externship at Lake Regional—an extra 192 hours of clinical experience—during her studies. After graduation, Menke joined Lake Regional and now works in the hospital’s Skilled Nursing Facility. She also serves as a preceptor for student nurses.

“Being a preceptor is fulfilling,” Menke says. “It feels good to give back and help someone else become a better nurse, person and caregiver.”

Menke often cares for retirees in the skilled nursing unit and believes the partnership between Columbia College and Lake Regional has been important to the continued growth of the community.

“I don’t think the area would prosper without quality healthcare,” Menke says. “More people are deciding to retire here each year. That means there will continue to be a real need for well trained nurses.”

Continuing to Grow
Joan Mitchell, CNA, G.N.
Joan Mitchell, CNA, G.N., is one of those nurses looking to the future. Mitchell graduated from Columbia College in December 2011.

“I always wanted to go to college, but I got married and started a family right after high school,” Mitchell says. “When my youngest child started high school, I saw nursing as a great opportunity to continue the caretaking I had done as a mom and daycare provider.”

To prepare for her new career, Mitchell volunteered in healthcare settings, worked at a nursing home and obtained certified nursing assistant certification. During her last year at Columbia College, she began working at Lake Regional as a patient care technician. She also completed the hospital’s extern program.

“The hands-on experience is huge,” Mitchell says. “Clinical rotations provide good experience, but the externship takes it to the next level. As an extern, you’re the only student on the unit, so you have six to eight nurses to learn from. You also get extra experience with the computer system and charting.”

Now, Mitchell’s goal is to continue working at Lake Regional while she continues her education. Eventually, she hopes to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing so she can teach others.

“It’s important to me to stay in this community,” says Mitchell, a native of Miller County who has lived in Camdenton for the past 18 years. “This is where my friends, family and neighbors
come for care.”

Bumper Crop
“The nursing program has been one of the significant achievements of the campus,” says Keeney, who has led the Lake of the Ozarks campus since it opened in 1990. “We can see it’s serving the local community because students can stay here, where they have family and friends.”

Keeney commends Lake Regional for their role in developing the R.N. program and improving the quality of healthcare for the whole community.

“We would not have the nursing program without the cooperation of Lake Regional,” Keeney says. “It took several years, but here we are.”