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College Preps Health Jobs In Lebanon

Lebanon — Training for health care workers is becoming a bigger part of Lebanon College’s curriculum as the school hopes to meet the growing need for skilled professionals at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and the region’s other health care providers.

This fall, the private, associate degree and certificate awarding college plans to open a new center dedicated to health education. The new Allied Health and Sciences Center will be located on the downtown mall in the vacant former Shoetorium space, which the college purchased for $725,000 in 2008.

The center will bring together existing programs in radiology and medical coding, and offer new training for surgical technicians and in sonography, said college president Ron Biron.

The college hopes to meet the local demand for qualified health care professionals, according to Biron. With DHMC as the region’s largest employer and smaller hospitals providing thousands more jobs, there is a constant need for training new workers and offering continuing education to the nurses and technicians who are mid-career.

“It just makes sense, because of where we are and what’s needed in the area,” Biron said. “It just makes sense for the college to move in that direction because it fills a huge need in the area.”

When it opens, the Allied center will encompass at least half of the educational programs at Lebanon College, Biron said. The preliminary plans for the 5,100 square foot building include five classrooms, three labs, lounges and administrative offices. Renovations have not yet begun, but Biron said they would be finished this fall.

The college has begun looking for additional instructors. The ultimate cost for expanding the health programs is not yet known, Biron said, but any additional expenses will be covered through, among other things, a capital campaign.

The college at the same time is trying to pay down more than $2 million in debt, much of which stems from a loan taken out in 2007 to buy the Shoetorium building.

Tuition is expected to rise slightly for fall of 2013, but the cost to students will remain “still very affordable,” Biron said.

The term “allied health” generally refers to professionals outside of medicine, dentistry, optometry and nursing. It includes all kinds of technicians, therapists and assistants who account for more than 60 percent of health care workers nationally, according to the Center for the Health Professions, a California workforce development organization.

Biron has had an eye on growing Lebanon College’s health-related programs since he became president last September. He has since been meeting with hospital officials from around the Upper Valley to learn about their employment needs and where his school can play a role in meeting them.

Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon is one of the hospitals that Biron recently approached.

The college could play a significant role in helping APD find employees for some of its most difficult-to-fill positions, said Sue Mooney, Alice Peck Day’s president and CEO.

“The reality of what we’re looking for is people, not necessarily doctors or nurses, but the next level down,” she said. “Techs, aides, assistants — that sort of level of people that are what makes the hospital work. They are critically important to what we do and not that easy to come by.”

Particularly now, with the health care industry in a period of great change, health care providers need to be thinking beyond traditional medical schools training doctors to find workers of all kinds of skill sets, hospital officials said.

Partnerships with schools like Lebanon will be important in helping hospitals plan for the future, said Sarah Currier, director of recruiting at DHMC.

“We’re just looking forward to the opportunity to partner together with Lebanon College and any other institutions of higher learning as we think about what kind of workforce we need for the future,” she said.

There is also a need for ongoing training, Currier said. Employees who started in an entry-level position may want to seek additional certifications at Lebanon to move into more advanced positions.

“It really allows us not just to hire people into a role, but to hire people into a medical career that will grow with them,” Currier said.

The college not only will move its existing programs into the building, but also reintroduce the sonography program after a three year hiatus and offer new training for surgical technicians.

The surgical technician program is based on one that DHMC developed in-house back in 2002. DHMC ended the program last year after the instructor took early retirement, said DHMC spokesman Rick Adams, and is negotiating with the college to license the course materials.

The two-year radiology degree has been among Lebanon College’s most popular programs, Biron said. Currently, radiology has 26 students.

Radiology Program Director Lisa Zabski said the new Allied center would do more than expand the hiring pool for Upper Valley hospitals. It will boost Lebanon College’s visibility in the public and offer more opportunities to students, she said.

Zabski hopes to upgrade equipment for her program as part of the expansion. Also, students will have a wider variety of disciplines to choose from.

Many of her radiology students have asked about enrolling in the sonography program, for example, which would give them the skills to perform ultrasounds as well as X-rays.

“They’d have more available if, once they got into the program, they want to expand out,” she said. “With health care changing, there’s going to be more allied health job opportunities.”

Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or cfleisher@vnews.com.