The USC Salkehatchie Nursing Program got a $25,000 shot in the arm last week from Colleton Medical Center.

CMC donated the money to help fund Salk’s new computer simulation lab, scheduled to begin operation next fall.

The donation has brought the total funds for the project up to $325,000, said April Cone, Salk’s nursing academic program manager. “We’re really excited. With the amount of money we’ve received so far, we should be able to have everything in place and ready to be used by fall 2017,” she said.

The addition of the half-million-dollar lab will be a big plus not only for the Salk nursing students, but for the hospital and, thus, the community. “As a growing medical facility, finding qualified nursing staff and other staff is important — and sometimes hard to do,” said CMC CEO Brad Griffin. “So it’s really important that we have a good nursing program here.”

“This state-of-the-art technological lab will simulate real life emergencies for nursing students to respond to and learn how to react to, which is critical in a hospital environment,” said Griffin.

“The hospital has been involved with the nursing program since its inception. Not only is it our responsibility to see that the nurses in our area are getting the proper training, but that they’re also having a good experience,” he said.

Currently, Salk students have to travel to Columbia to take the lab simulation classes. “Travel is burdensome for the students and potentially introduces them to out-of-town facilities,” Griffin said. So being able to offer the training here ultimately helps Colleton Medical Center with staffing. “We want to do as much as we can to keep them local. We wanted to make a donation to keep that in Walterboro,” he said.

Ann Jonason, who is CMC’s chief nursing officer and also teaches in Salk’s nursing curriculum, said she hires about 30-35% of each graduating class at Salk. “We still have some of those nurses that came out of that first graduating class.” In addition, about 65% of the nursing graduates have stayed in the five-county area around Colleton.

Jonason has been involved since Salk dean Dr. Ann Carmichael starting writing grants to start the program. “We were excited because Walterboro, Colleton County, is a smaller rural area, and we didn’t have enough nurses coming from this area. So we decided to start trying to grow our own, Jonason said.

“This is really exciting for me, not only as an educator, but as an employer. What I usually say to students on the first day of class is nobody wants you to be successful more than I do, for a lot of reasons. Somebody will be taking care of me in my old age. I want to know that there’s good quality of care here.”

The advantage of the new lab, Dr. Carmichael said, is that “right now, we do have some fairly sophisticated mannequins that we can simulate various kinds of illnesses — a heart attack or something else that you have just seconds to make a decision that might make a difference in the outcome. But the nurse instructor has to stand there and program the mannequin, so the student knows it’s coming. With this, the instructors will be in a control booth, and the student will be caring for the patient and all of a sudden, something will happen. So it’s more like a real life situation. Ultimately, it will result not only in better patient outcomes in the field, but it will also increase students’ confidence levels because they will have practiced and, hopefully, succeeded more often than not in handling these crises.”

The entire process will involve remodeling several rooms at Salk to house the new equipment, buying the mannequin and the supporting computers, monitors and software, Cone said. The remodeling will have to be done during this year’s Christmas break and over the summer so the construction won’t disrupt classes. Once the remodeling is complete, the equipment can be installed and the new mannequin will be ready to be “killed.”

“Nursing attracts hands-on kind of people. This is a great opportunity for students to learn in a high stakes situation, but not hurt a real physical person,” Cone said. “I always joke with them that you can kill this mannequin. That’s not a bad thing at this point because you’re going to learn from that. This is a good opportunity for them to practice before they actually put hands on a patient.”

The plan is to expand that opportunity to include other emergency personnel as well, such as EMTs and first responders.

“And that will ultimately improve the quality of care in our community,” Jonason said.