After years of community outcry over a local nursing shortage, Humboldt State University announced today that it hopes to see its bachelor of science nursing program return by the end of 2020, following a gift of $2 million from St. Joseph Health.
At a press conference this morning, North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire was joined by administrators and executives from St. Joseph Health, HSU, College of the Redwoods and Premier Financial Group where they announced the program’s rollout.
HSU discontinued its previous nursing program in 2011, with then-President Rollin Richmond citing the program’s high cost, difficulty keeping qualified faculty and its overlap with CR’s two-year nursing program. Since then, the nearest bachelor of science in nursing program available to Humboldt County residents is at Sonoma State University, nearly four hours south of Eureka.
The decision exacerbated a long-running nursing shortage, with local hospitals and nursing homes relying heavily on temporary traveling nurses to fill the staffing gaps, Humboldt-Del Norte Medical Society president-elect and local physician Stephanie Dittmer told the Times-Standard in 2018. Later that year, the California Healthcare Workforce Policy Commission voted to designate Humboldt County as a registered nursing shortage area.
McGuire said today that the lack of a nursing program in Humboldt County has been one of the top issues in the area.
“It is simply unacceptable that the North Coast doesn’t have a BSN program,” he said. “Today we’re delivering on a promise that was made almost three years ago.”
He said that CR also plans to expand its registered nursing program to its Crescent City campus in 2020. This move will increase the number of students with associate degrees in nursing who are eligible to enter HSU’s nursing program, he said.
$5 million goal
To fund the venture, an endowment was created with a goal of $5 million to be reached by the end of 2019. Dr. Roberta Luskin-Hawk, St. Joseph Health, Humboldt County chief executive, announced that St. Joseph Health contributed $2 million to the endowment with funds from its community benefit program.
“We saw the opportunity to have this incredible partnership with Humboldt State University to create and bring this program back to life,” she said. “Today we don’t have enough nurses to fill the openings … it’s clear that this will have a longstanding effect on the community.”
McGuire said that additional pledges to cover the $3 million gap have been made, and will be discussed in the coming weeks.
“It’s a hell of a way to start the weekend,” he said.
HSU president Lisa Rossbacher called the grant from St. Joseph Health “incredibly generous.”
“(It’s) one of the largest that Humboldt State University has every received,” she said. “And I can’t imagine any that are much more important.”
Rossbacher said the program will specifically cater to the region with four “important components”: A focus on rural health, cultural humility, leadership, and behavioral health.
“(The program has) a unique flavor to serve the people and Indigenous people of our region,” she said. “This is one of our more ambitious undertakings.”
CR student Felicia Goodman is part of the way through CR’s registered nursing program and welcomed the development.
“I think it’s very important for this community,” she said. “We needed something in this area for people who want to continue to serve here.”
Goodman planned on finding an online course to pursue further nursing education, because she wasn’t able to leave the area, but now, she may have a local option.
“It’s going to open up a lot of opportunity for growth for nurses going forward,” she said. “(It will) equip us with the tools and knowledge we need to serve this community specifically.”
Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506.