Luna nursing on ‘life support’

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State Board of Nursing mandating changes

By Martin Salazar

Officials at Luna Community College are taking steps to bolster the school’s nursing program after the state Board of Nursing determined that the program’s three nursing faculty members are spread too thin and that the program is on life support.

Indeed, the Board of Nursing has downgraded Luna’s status from full board approval to two-year conditional approval, and it has ordered Luna to stop admitting new nursing students until the problems are addressed.

The 22 students who had already enrolled to begin Luna’s nursing program in the fall of 2014 will be allowed to move forward as will nursing students already enrolled in the program.

In New Mexico, all nursing programs are required to attain and maintain approval from the New Mexico Board of Nursing.

Conni Reichert — who has been serving as Luna’s director of allied health sciences, as the nursing program director and as a nursing faculty member — told Luna’s Board of Trustees on Tuesday evening that it’s unclear at this point what the state action might mean for Luna’s national nursing accreditation.

“We do acknowledge we have challenges,” Reichert told the board. And while she concedes that complying with the laundry list of mandates the Board of Nursing has issued will be hard, she said that in the end it’s going to be good for Luna because it will get the program where it needs to be.

She pledged that she and her colleagues will do everything they can to get the nursing program back on track.

Luna’s nursing program came under scrutiny because the percentage of its graduates who passed their nursing board exam the first time they took the test fell below 80 percent three out of the last four years. Passing the National Council Licensure Examination is required in order for a student to become a licensed nurse.

In 2013, the pass rate on the test for Luna graduates was 69.2 percent; in 2012 it was 77.14 percent; in 2011 it was 83.33 percent and in 2010 it was 51.72 percent.

The Board of Nursing expects programs to maintain a pass rate of 80 percent or better.2009-10 program’s best year
Luna Community College has had a nursing program for decades.

The program strives to prepare students to become registered nurses, although students can take the licensed practical nurse exam after completing the first year of the program.

Reichert said she has been at Luna for 14 years. During that time, the 2009-10 academic year was the best one for Luna’s nursing program, she said. At that time, the college had a vibrant program with six full-time people working in the department, she said.

Last summer, the director of the nursing program left suddenly, and the program went from four full-time faculty and staff to three.

“So we now had only three full-time faculty and staff, myself being the interim director, taking care of the needs of 75 students,” Reichert said. She said Luna advertised three vacancies in the nursing program last year, but was unable to fill the positions due to the fact that nursing faculty members need to have master’s degrees and are in high demand.

Reichert said that six months after she became the interim nursing director, the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing sent a letter to Luna asking that a permanent nursing director be named because the accrediting body doesn’t like interim directors to be in place for more than six months.

Reichert was asked to take the position, and she accepted.

“We were in kind of trauma because of the fact that we had myself doing way too much, we had not enough faculty, and our third problem was that our pass rates were low,” she told the board.

The low pass rates triggered a site visit from the state Board of Nursing in late May.

Nursing Board representatives immediately realized that Luna’s nursing instructors were stretched too thin.

“Conni Reichert and faculty have worked extremely hard under dire circumstances to keep this program on life support,” they wrote in their findings.

And while the Nursing Board outlined a number of strengths for Luna’s program — such things as a state of the art simulation lab and academically qualified faculty who make themselves available to students — it also noted 16 concerns.

Among those concerns were the school’s low pass rates, the fact that Reichert wasn’t spending at least 80 percent of her time on administrative matters, Luna’s inability to retain qualified faculty and a program administrator, insufficient prevention of cheating and curricular weaknesses that contribute to low pass rates.

Board mandates a number of changes
To address those challenges, the Board of Nursing is mandating a number of changes in the nursing program, and Luna is already implementing many of them.

Reichert, for example, will begin dedicating 100 percent of her time to administrative duties for the nursing program. Someone has been hired to handle the teaching load she had been carrying, and additional faculty members are also being hired.

The college is also planning to hire an allied health director, an assistant director of nursing and a nursing student success coach. Other changes the college is planning include: focusing on a smaller admission class to improve student persistence, retention and completion rates, strengthening curriculum planning and mapping, and improving remediation and progression policies.

“The Luna Community College nursing program is important to all New Mexicans and in particular, the residents of northeastern New Mexico,” Luna President Pete Campos wrote in a campus newsletter. “We are committed to keep this program current, rigorous and reputable. Our goal is to assist all our students so they will successfully complete the nursing program and NCLEX exam also known as the National Council Licensure Examination.”

Several members of the board of trustees thanked Reichert for being forthcoming in her presentation and for all that she and the other nursing faculty have been doing for the nursing program.

“I know you have worked hard to keep the program going,” Chairman Abelino Montoya said. “Your dedication and what you’ve done with the students who have passed, you’ve done a remarkable job.”

Board members also noted that Luna’s nursing program will need to become more rigorous and strict in order to meet the state Board of Nursing mandates.

“The community we serve needs to know these standards are going to be set by an outside agency, and you have to follow them,” Montoya said. “We have to follow them.”

Mandated changes

Among the mandates being pushed by the state Board of Nursing are:
• Hire a director of Allied Health Sciences and retain Reichert as nursing programs director at 100 percent time and at her current salary.
• Establish official remediation policies within the nursing program at every level.
• Hire a qualified student academic success coach.
• Implement an early referral policy for at-risk students.
• Implement nursing admission and progression policies consistently.
• After fall 2014 admission class, cease enrollment in nursing programs until NCLEX, nursing program administration and faculty issues are adequately resolved. No more than the students already admitted for fall 2014 may be admitted into the fall 2014 cohort.
• Two year conditional approval with quarterly reports. Determine via report — and likely another site visit in six months — if requirements of the two year conditional approval are being met. Consider decreasing the length of the non-renewable conditional approval if sufficient progress over all formerly and currently identified fronts has not been made.
• More computers and screening to protect test integrity.
• Compute nursing programs completion rate and develop strategy to address.
• Curriculum mapping for strengths and weaknesses, including needed prerequisite changes to analyze NCLEX-RN pass rates.