New Emergency Training Center at NWACC Trains Health Pros

by Chris Bahn  on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013 12:00 am  

Students at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville have 11 new labs to simulate emergency room and other scenarios in the newly opened Center for Health Professions. (Photo by Rob Hanlon)

Omar Carrillo has seen the work EMS crews do through his job as a firefighter in Rogers. He understands the demands placed on first responders and knows nothing can replace on-the-job-training when dealing with emergencies.

Northwest Arkansas Community College is getting closer to replicating the experience, however. Among the features of the Bentonville college’s new $14.2 million Center for Health Professions building is lab space set up to simulate being in the back of an ambulance. It’s valuable experience for students like Carrillo.

“It’s not completely realistic, but this is one step closer right here. The closer you can get to realistic training, the better off you are,” said the 24-year-old Carrillo, who is seeking certification through the paramedic program at NWACC. “It’s pretty impressive.”

NWACC officials think there is much to like about the 83,000-SF center, which opened this semester. Not only is there an ambulance simulator, the three-story facility is home to 11 labs, including an emergency room and intensive care unit.

Washington Regional Medical Center of Fayetteville donated $250,000 to help with the cost of a nursing simulation lab. Nursing students can practice on mannequins that offer 100 different scenarios they might face when treating a real patient.

Steve Percival, vice president of human resources at Washington Regional, said NWACC has produced quality health care workers but should improve training due to the new center. He likened the lab experience to future pilots learning from a flight simulator.

“The more realistic you can make the learning experience, the less of the knowledge gap you’ll have when it comes to walking into a patient room,” Percival said. “You don’t learn how to fly from a book. Who would fly with a pilot whose only experience is reading? This really is no different.”

Training for students in nursing, respiratory therapy, physical therapist assistant, paramedic, emergency medical technician, fire science, certified nurse assistant and patient care assistant programs is much more realistic. And students are able to work in a collaborative work environment.

For example, first responders in training can work with paramedic and EMT students, like Carrillo, on how they might handle a simulated crash. They’ll then practice how they would handle the transfer of a patient to the hospital where nursing students are on hand to care for the victim.

“It will better prepare our students for the world they’ll see when they leave Northwest Arkansas Community College,” Mary Ross, dean of health professions at NWACC, said. “They’ll know what it’s like to work as part of a team. There are a multitude of situations we can put our students in through the simulations. We can make sure the first encounter they have with an ICU setting or the scene of an accident is not with a real patient.”

Another benefit of the new center is it offers the ability to grow health professions at NWACC. When construction began two years ago 1,100 students were enrolled in courses related to health care. Today that number has grown to 1,600.

Crafton Tull of Oklahoma City designed the building and Nabholz Construction Services of Conway built it. An unfinished part of the building leaves room to grow, Ross said. The school is evaluating new programs and courses to offer as it works toward 2,000 students, he said.

Ross said NWACC’s physical therapy assistant program has for the last 13 years produced a 100 percent pass rate for students seeking certification in that area. Now the center provides room to expand that program beyond the 14 students currently enrolled.

“We want to provide the community with a health care worker that is in demand, regardless of what the demand is,” Ross said. “We have the programs we do now because those were the needs in the community. If those dynamics change, we want to be positioned so that we can rapidly respond to the needs of the community.”

NWACC President Becky Paneitz, who plans to retire at the end of June, told those gathered for a Jan. 18 grand opening ceremony that an estimated 95 percent of program students remain in northwest Arkansas after graduation.

That should be good news for the future of health care in the area. With five hospitals in Benton and Washington counties, there are jobs to fill.

“We are thrilled at the many opportunities this new center will provide our current students and generations of students to come,” Paneitz said. “Ultimately, the new center will enhance our ability to educate and prepare those seeking a career in the health professions. That’s a positive development for our students and for the patients who will be served by these well-trained professionals. Ultimately, it’s good for our whole community.”



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