So this is what it looks like to create a college from scratch: discussions on funding, barely audible conference calls, contract negotiations, more discussions on funding.
That mundane but critical sausage-making surrounding the years-long effort to bring an allied and mental health college to town was unveiled for the first time Tuesday as the Umpqua Valley Development Corps Board of Directors of the newly formed nonprofit group tasked with bringing the college to fruition held its inaugural public meeting.
Much of the initial discussion centered around work done by the consulting firm ECONorthwest, which looked at four main areas of the proposed college: the need and demand for it, quantifying its economic value, gauging its financial feasibility and forecasting its regional economic impact.
Rick Allgeyer, executive director at the Oregon Center for Nursing, said via phone that there is an acute shortage of nurses in the state, especially in rural communities. Part of the reason rural communities have a problem attracting and keeping nurses and other health care professionals is because most of the schools that educate them in Oregon are located in suburban communities, especially the Portland area, Allgeyer said.
“We need to look at where nurses are needed so that we can really make sure that the entire state of Oregon has access to highly educated, highly qualified nurses,” he said.
Kelly Morgan, CEO of CHI Mercy Medical Center and vice president of the UVDC board, said his hospital often has to hire short-term nurses, known as traveling nurses, to fill the void.
“Locally, we’re extremely short of nurses,” he said. “At the end of the day the current universities just aren’t putting out enough graduates, and that is what is driving this project.”
The proposed allied and mental health college — now officially the Southern Oregon Medical Workforce Center — won’t just educate nurses. Plans also call for the center to offer bachelor’s and advanced degrees in counseling, physical therapy and other fields.
Yet the college is not a certainty. It carries a price tag upward of $30 million, and only about one-third of that has been secured. That’s where the UVDC, which was incorporated less than two weeks ago, comes in.
The UVDC is composed of many of the same people who have been behind the project from early on. Local business owner Richard Heard is president of the UVDC Board of Directors. Other board members include Steve Loosley, Umpqua Community College Board of Directors; Linda Samek, provost at George Fox University; and Lisa Yop, Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
The board members said the center will have a profound impact on this region on a number of levels — for starters, its total economic benefit to the area would be nearly $40 million over a 20-year span, ECONorthwest has calculated.
To help secure the remaining funding needed for the center, the board awarded a project management contract to the public relations firm Pac/West Communications. Pac/West was instrumental in helping secure the state funding and ushering the project along, said Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Winston, an ex-officio member of the board.
“We’re not here without Pac/West. We’re not getting this done without Pac/West,” Heard said.
The contract calls for Pac/West to be paid a monthly retainer of $10,000 and a $500 monthly travel budget. However, UVDC is so new it doesn’t actually have any money in its coffers to pay anyone yet. The money appropriated by the Legislature will take some time to be delivered, board members acknowledged.
“How do we move forward when we don’t have all the funding we need?” Heard asked.
The board will explore immediate funding possibilities from local sources, including the Ford Foundation, the City of Roseburg and Douglas County.
The board intends to hold public meetings on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. The next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 25.