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$38M Project to Help UCA Train Nurses

3 min read

The University of Central Arkansas in Conway is expected to start construction in August on a $37.7 million building for instructing more nursing students.

The university’s board of trustees last month agreed to issue bonds to build the 80,000-SF four-story Integrated Health Sciences Building. The building will allow the university to expand its nursing program “so that we could produce more nurses for the state of Arkansas,” said Jimmy Ishee, dean of the College of Health & Behavioral Sciences.

The school now has a waiting list for students to go through its two-year nursing program, from which they graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. “For every one that we admit, I turn away about two students,” Ishee said. The program has a junior and senior class, each with 75 students.

The new building, which is expected to open in the fall of 2021, will allow each of the junior and senior classes to grow to 125 students, for a total of 100 additional nursing candidates.

The expansion of the nursing program is welcomed by health care providers in Arkansas, said UCA President Houston Davis. “Not only the hospitals but the network of health system providers here in the region have absolutely documented the need for their workforce pipeline,” he said. “We feel like this is going to begin making some significant progress toward meeting those needs.”

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing says on its website that the shortage of registered nurses in the United States is expected to increase as baby boomers grow older and the need for health care increases. “Compounding the problem is the fact that nursing schools across the country are struggling to expand capacity to meet the rising demand for care given the national move toward health care reform,” the association said.

The Integrated Health Sciences Building also will have space for the college’s physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology and dietetics departments.

“The first floor will be an interprofessional clinic where all of these students can be educated in an environment where they’re working alongside each other instead of independently,” Ishee said. “We’re trying to create that environment here at UCA where those health care professionals are educated in an environment that they’ll be working in when they actually go out into the health care arena.”

The third floor of the building will have a simulation lab primarily for the nursing students, he said. The lab will feature state-of-the-art equipment to provide a lifelike experience for students.

The other two floors will have office space and classrooms.

UCA expects to hire six to eight staff and faculty members when the building opens in 2021. That number includes several nursing faculty members, as well as a clinic manager and additional support staff. In the three to five years after the building opens, the college projects that it will hire another eight to 10 faculty and staff members.

The investment banking firm Crews & Associates Inc. of Little Rock is handling the bond issue for the project. Davis said money from donors and student tuition most likely will be used to repay the bonds.

Taggart Architects of North Little Rock designed the building. A contractor will be chosen later this month for the project, which will be at Western Avenue and Bruce Street on UCA’s campus and is opposite the college’s existing health sciences building.

“It’s a game-changing facility,” Davis said. “Not only for UCA Conway, but it’s one that’s going to make a big impact on … the state.”

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