By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
Union College got a big treat on Halloween Day.
Before a large and enthusiastic audience, the Barbourville school ushered in a new era in its 134-year history by opening their new Center for Health and Natural Sciences.
Using gold-plated surgical scissors called “bandage cutters,” school and government officials made the center official Thursday. They did so by cutting an orange ribbon in front of the renovated building that formerly housed the old Knox County Hospital.
They finished the festivities with a reception inside the center, and gave tours and demonstrations of new equipment.
For many attending, a special treat was viewing the simulation laboratories that are currently being used by students in Union’s fully-accredited nursing and athletic training programs.
The Center for Health and Natural Sciences houses the college’s Edna Jenkins Mann School of Nursing, as well as the athletic training program, natural science classes, and the psychology department.
While the official dedication was Thursday, classes have been meeting in the building on a regular basis since the fall semester began.
Union’s President, Dr. Marcia Hawkins, was the first to comment on the college’s — and the community’s — newest investment.
“For years, this building sat unused and blighted. Not anymore. It is full of life. Thank you all for joining us to share in this wonderful experience,” she said.
Paul Isaacs, the Board of Trustees Chair at Union College, added numerous partnerships were formed in the process, which helped brought about the finished product.
He reminded the audience the school has come a long way from when the days when the chemistry department was located in a quonset hut, during the time when a “Phil Sharp” was a chemistry student.
That “Phil Sharp” became Dr. Phillip A. Sharp.
A geneticist and molecular biologist, Dr. Sharp shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1993 with Richard J. Roberts for co-discovering RNA splicing.
Dr. Sharp is a Union College alumnus, graduating in 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and physics.
“It shows what people with vision can do. Everybody worked together. You will not find a better laboratory anywhere in the state. There’s a lot of positive things going on at Union College. This is only the beginning. The beginning of a new time at Union College,” Isaacs pointed out.
State Senate President Robert Stivers talked more of the partnerships that produced the center.
“We worked out a long-term lease agreement, using coal severance funds. Through cooperation with state government, county government, city government and Union College, this is all possible. this is a process that shows government can work. This is a game-changer day,” said Stivers, whose district includes Barbourville and Knox County.
Beginning with help from the Knox County Fiscal Court for the college to get the old hospital building, the partnerships were further cemented in early September, when Union received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Matt S. Erskine, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, made the money presentation during the college’s Fall Convocation on Sept. 5.
The grant was used to help renovate the old hospital building.
Erskine also noted during his visit that the building and the departments housed in it would lead to fiscal growth in Barbourville-Knox County area, with the new school training workers for jobs in southeastern Kentucky’s health care industry.
Quoting 5tth District U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers, who was in Washington, D.C., field representative Shannon Rickett said on his behalf, “Our entire region will reap the benefits of the four-year nursing school for years to come. Instead of going up I-75, our local students can stay here for a good quality education.”
“Governor Beshear recognized instantly that this project has great value for this region, and this community,” Tony Wilder, the Commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Local Government in Frankfort, said before the ribbon-cutting.
After the center official dedication, the woman the college’s school of nursing is named after remembered a board of trustees meeting a few years back, which lead to Thursday’s dedication.
“I know the word is overused, but this is all ‘awesome.’ I was the one who stood up in that meeting and say we needed a nursing school at Union College. I was the one that raised the money I got the ball rolling. You just have to have the vision and go for it. It’s not ‘If,’ it’s ‘When.’ And that vision is here now. I feel like a proud mother,” said Edna Jenkins Mann of Indianapolis, a Union Board of Trustees member.
The big ticket tours — which were free — were of the simulated laboratories used for the Edna Jenkins Mann School of Nursing.
Union’s Summer Jackson said $250,000 of equipment was inside the labs — and that’s just for one simulator.
“The two simulators are as functional as can be. The simulated patients, well, they breathe, they bleed, they sweat, their pupils dilate, and they can do almost anything a real human can do,” noted Jackson, Director of Undergraduate Enrollment at the college.
The larger of the two simulator labs is used for clinical situations, while the smaller one is more like a hospital room, said Jennifer Vanover, a junior Biology major at Union who hails from McCreary County.
“We took the alumni group through here on a tour of the simulator a couple of weeks ago. They, like those who have taken the tour, love it. This is an amazing facility,” she added.
“Here in this lab, students learn the proper way to care for their patients, and provide for essential healthcare. Here with the simulated patients, we teach our students how to bathe patients, how to look for their vital signs, and other things to watch out for. We’ve never had equipment like this. Nothing this high-tech,” said Brisja Brewer, Administrative Assistant for the Nursing Program.
In the smaller simulator room, a lone patient lays in a bed, waiting for a tour group to arrive.
Teachers and students affectionately call him “Mr. Sim,” for “Simulator.”
He told Vanover and Dr. Sheila Chapman, who were on duty, “I’m sweating.”
Both checked his blood pressure, listened to his heartbeat, put an I.V. in him, gave him some medicines, and checked the pupils of his eyes.
When Vanover used a small light, Mr. Sim’s pupils dilated.
“It’s amazing for a school like Union to have these kind of resources. It’s one of the reasons I moved from western North Carolina to teach here, said Dr. Chapman, the school’s Associate Professor of Nursing.
Union’s Dean of the School of Nursing and Health Services, Dr. Lorene Putnam, watched as visitors on the tour watched in amazement as Mr. Sim went through the motions, just like a regular patient.
She agreed, in this case, that practice makes perfect.
The people who planned this building did a tremendous job. To have this caliber of equipment will let us prepare students for high-tech situations. We were able to buy a lot of electronic and medical equipment, to let us simulate what the hospitals have. It’s amazing how far we’ve come and what can be done here. When people come in and see ‘Mr. Sim,’ their jaws drop,” said Dr. Putnam.
By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
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