PIKEVILLE, KY – The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) recently announced the approval of a $500,000 grant to Pikeville Medical Center (PMC) for Project HEART (Healthcare Employment Around Resource Training). These funds will be used to purchase equipment to create a simulated learning center for post-secondary students interested in pursuing a career in healthcare.

“Projections are that our nation will be facing a huge nursing shortage as early as 2024.  However, Pikeville Medical Center is already finding it challenging to fill the nursing vacancies we have now,” explained PMC Vice President of the Board of Directors and CEO Donovan Blackburn.  “With this funding, we will be able to help local nursing schools double and even triple their enrollment within the next two years.  We are extremely thankful.”

PMC has allocated space in one of its properties for the new education center and signed an agreement with Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC) to use the space and the equipment to increase the enrollment size of its Associate Degree nursing program. Construction will be complete in December 2020, and equipment will be in place before the 2021 spring semester. With this ARC grant, the project will allow an increase in admission of 50 nursing students at BSCTC in the 2021 spring semester. That number will increase to 100 new nursing students per year in the years that follow.

“Big Sandy Community & Technical College is committed to being part of the solution to addressing the shortage of nurses and other healthcare-related positions,” said Dr. Sherry Zylka, President and CEO of Big Sandy Community and Technical College.  “Specifically, we are in the process of expanding our nursing program at our Pikeville Campus and are very excited for the opportunity to partner with PMC for the use of facilities and equipment needed to create a simulated learning environment for our students.  By partnering with PMC, we create a synergy within our region to bring much needed state-of-the-art resources to serve our students, our healthcare facilities, and our communities better.”

Knowing the nursing shortage is expected to become more severe in the coming years, PMC has also been working with the University of Pikeville (UPIKE) as well as BSCTC to increase the number of registered nurses and expand their nursing programs. Plans are underway to enhance Big Sandy’s Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program as well. Students coming through programs at Big Sandy will help supply the human resource pipeline to provide healthcare professionals needed in Eastern Kentucky. In addition to BSCTC programs, UPIKE has contributed by increasing its enrollment for its bachelor’s degree (BSN) nursing program to an additional 60 per year. The end result is that Project HEART will help to put more nurses in the workforce.

“Two years ago, I hosted a healthcare meeting between hospital CEOs and our university presidents in Eastern Kentucky to address the growing shortage of healthcare professionals in our region. PMC, UPIKE and BSCTC immediately took action, creating a valuable partnership and forming Project HEART,” said Congressman Hal Rogers. “This program prepares our best and brightest aspiring nurses to get a degree and a job right here at home. I applaud the ARC for investing in this project to ensure students have access to the tools and training they need.”

From hospitals to clinics to in our schools, nurses are in high demand. The healthcare needs of the people of our region are growing, and this is reflected in the number of jobs consistently available for nurses.

“Eastern Kentucky’s healthcare heroes work around the clock to keep our families healthy. I’m proud ARC teamed up with Project HEART to give future medical professionals the opportunity to put their skills to work in this region,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  “I’d like to congratulate everyone involved in this investment, which can help address long-standing challenges and increase access to quality care in these wonderful communities.”

The center will include a complete information technology system with tele-classroom video capabilities for educational classes. The inclusion of a complete simulation program for clinical training and practice is critical to ensure that students have access to the most up-to-date technology and techniques.

“We see Project HEART as a complete career pathway exposing students to various high-demand healthcare fields,” said Michelle Rainey, PMC Chief Nursing Officer. “The nursing career pathway offers many opportunities for employment in high-demand and high-wage positions and will help provide security for the future needs of both the individual and the healthcare workforce.  Through collaboration with our local colleges, we are planning to fill many healthcare jobs and will offer training opportunities in various medical fields.  PMC will continue to enhance the career pathway with our externship, residency, and mentoring programs”

“I believe health care is a basic human right and want to ensure every Kentuckian has access to quality care in their communities,” explained Governor Andy Beshear.  “Project HEART will improve health care access by educating and retaining more nurses to care for our Eastern Kentucky families.  Pikeville Medical Center, Big Sandy Community & Technical College and ARC are invaluable partners for the commonwealth and are helping us build a stronger, better Kentucky.”

Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP), Kentucky Career Center Jobsight Network has also been a valuable collaborative partner in this project.  Their staff will be assisting adults who have been dislocated from their jobs through closings or layoffs as well as economically disadvantaged young people who need help obtaining education and training.