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LU has ideas for using St. Mary's as nursing school

Connie Hamacher is “excited” about the possibility that her Lincoln University nursing students soon could be studying inside the current St. Mary’s Health Center complex.

“Whenever they have it remodeled, we’ll be there,” she told reporters Monday, after Gov. Jay Nixon said his budget proposal includes $10 million to renovate a part of the hospital complex, after St. Mary’s moves to its new hospital in November.

Realistically, she said, the earliest her students could move to the new location would be next fall — if lawmakers endorse the governor’s proposal.

LU nursing students train now in simulated operating and patient rooms, constructed inside Eliff Hall. The surgical-technology students use simulated operating rooms.

“We train nurses to function in acute care facilities,” Hamacher explained. Nixon’s plan would “provide us the opportunity to continue that in a live setting, the opportunity to think of future expansion.

“Over there, we will have real OR suites.”

Lincoln currently offers a two-year, associate’s nursing degree and trains 120 students in Jefferson City, and another 80 at Fort Leonard Wood.

Next fall, LU will change its program to a four-year, bachelor’s degree training sequence.

“We’ve been working on this for years,” Hamacher said. “It’s interesting that it’s all coming together, this fall.”

Some of the planning had been done for the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2011 “Transformation” proposal, which envisioned both the nursing school and a culinary arts program moving into the current hospital complex.

Voters rejected the sales tax that would have paid for those plans.

But, Chamber President Randy Allen said Monday, the state and St. Mary’s officials used the Transformation information in developing Nixon’s new proposal.

“I think it’s a huge potential project,” he said, “and there may be some for-profit entities that go in there.

“So, they could create some other kinds of taxes that would be beneficial to the community.”

Lincoln would use only about a third of the current hospital’s existing space.

Would the school work with other colleges for using more of the facility?

“At this point, we haven’t had any discussions to that effect,” LU President Kevin Rome told reporters, “and I think it’s really premature to speak of it.

“But, we’re open to collaborating with any institutions that want to work with us — and we look forward to expanding to do that.”

In a later e-mail, Rome told the News Tribune it’s also too early to predict what other effects the proposal will have, “but it does create the possibility for program expansion and development” for other LU programs.

Members of the Vogel family support the idea.

Their ancestors donated the land for the current St. Mary’s hospital, which opened in 1905.

“I think everyone wins in this situation,” Carl Vogel — a former state lawmaker — said. “You hear nothing but great things about Lincoln University’s nursing program, and it’s obvious there’s a shortage of nurses.

“And, in the overall scheme of the budget, I think Gov. Nixon needs to be commended for requesting the funds, and I hope it makes it through the General Assembly.”

He thought his sisters would agree. His son, Jake, does.

“Since it’s going into nursing and education, I think that’s just as equally important (as the hospital),” he said. “I think that’s a great thing.”

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