By andrew Katz
BALTIMORE – More than 2,000 allied health students at the Community College of Baltimore County will benefit from nearly $5 million in federal funding announced Wednesday by an array of public and education officials, who said the money was designed to alleviate the state’s health care worker shortage.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., joined Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Baltimore County Executive James Smith at the Essex campus to publicize the $4.9 million grant for its School of Health Professions and congratulate the students, faculty and staff for their continued commitment to health education.
“We wanted to create jobs today and jobs tomorrow,” said Mikulski, in a newly renovated respiratory therapy care lab funded by a previous grant. “We fought so hard to put money in the federal checkbook so that you would have a better checkbook.”
The grant came to the college as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in February 2009. It will provide enough support to train 2,031 students and workers over three years, with 1,012 receiving certificates or degrees by February 2013.
Sandra Kurtinitis, the college’s president, said the “marvelous” honor would also enable the school to renovate and upgrade existing labs, classrooms and simulation technologies. “What can’t we do with $4.9 million?” she quipped.
The Health Care Growth and Emerging Industries award is the largest received by a higher education institution in Maryland and the second largest in the country.
The award will also enable the school to create new workspaces and hire additional faculty in an effort to increase graduates in high-demand programs. According to the college, it will specifically support the Certified Nursing Assistant, Nurse Support Technician, Licensed Practical Nurse, Associate Degree Nurse and Respiratory Therapist Programs.
Wednesday’s announcement represents the third such honor the college has received from the Labor Department. The first two were awarded as part of the Community-Based Job Training Grants program and have allowed the health professions school to move courses online, renovate existing facilities and add new programs in dental hygiene and psychosocial rehabilitation.
Mikulski, who noted she previously taught sociology at a community college in the city, said the latest award would also go toward faculty salaries and learning opportunities for student assistants. The funds became available to the school on March 1.
“This is a bridge to somewhere,” she continued. “I’m very proud of you … Essex continues to be an award-winning school.”
Brown echoed her sentiments, saying, “The jobs that are going to be created as a result of this program, 1,000-plus, are going to be more and more in demand as more and more Americans and Marylanders have access to health care.”
He praised Mikulski for her role in the passage of last year’s ARRA and the recent health care legislation, which expanded coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans.
Brown also said that the college would benefit from the general operating budget about to be passed by the General Assembly. He added that while the budget is smaller than it was four years ago, funding for community colleges has increased.
Smith said the school’s programs are an integral part of the implementation of the new health care bill because the graduates will begin helping the newly insured.
“We’re going to need health care providers because there are going to be a lot more people in America, and a lot more people in Baltimore County and the state of Maryland, who are going to have access to health care, provided there is somebody there to give it to them,” he said. “So all of this does tie together.”
Virginia Forster, director of clinical education for the respiratory care therapist program, said the new simulation equipment and increased work space has been “wonderful.”
“We’ve really benefited from the money,” said Forster, who said she has watched the program evolve from a one-year certificate option in 1988 to a two-year, selective-admission program today.
“(The students are) able to see the equipment in the lab and work with it before they see it in the clinical area.”
The crowded room was certainly enthusiastic, but Brown seemed to sum it up best.”
“To quote our vice president, this is a big, fantastic deal,” he joked, in reference to Vice President Joe Biden’s off-mic, expletive-spiced remark to President Obama about the bill’s passage.