Thursday, April 18, 2024

Gaston College gets $60 million from state to address healthcare labor needs

Gaston College received $60 million in the state budget to expand its health science program, which will allow it to train more healthcare workers, college officials say. The $60 million marks North Carolina’s largest community college budget allocation this year, and the largest in Gaston College’s history, say lawmakers.

The money will go toward a building, says CaroMont Health President and CEO Chris Peek, but it will help create a talent pipeline for not only Gaston County’s hospital, but for

CaroMont Health President and CEO Chris Peek says money to expand Gaston College program will create a healthcare talent pipeline.

healthcare systems across the region.

“The investment the state has made is not about brick and mortar,” says Peek, a Gaston College graduate. “It’s about changing the lives of students who will in the future save the lives of people in this community. That’s what this $60 million is about.”

The expanded program could help address the approximate 700 job openings in healthcare in the region and contribute to the growing healthcare industry, say lawmakers and healthcare officials present at Friday’s announcement at Gaston College. In September 2024, CaroMont Health expects to open a 66-bed hospital now under construction in Belmont. That hospital will need 150 workers when it opens, Peek says, which will grow to 300 within a short time.

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore speaks at an event at Gaston College on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023.

“The critical need for healthcare workers is only continuing to grow and grow,” says House Speaker Tim Moore of nearby Kings Mountain. “This was one of the best uses of public dollars in the history of the state.” Moore then focused his attention on the dozen or so health care teachers from Gaston College present for the announcement. “You’re going to be helping save lives and we’ll be able to look back and see a tangible result of this appropriation.” 

While the money comes now, it will take between three and four years for the college, which has about 5,900 full- and part-time students, to complete construction, says college President John Hauser. Once complete though, it will be the only regional facility open to industry that is capable of training opportunities for existing healthcare professionals as well as students, he says. “Not only will our students develop necessary skills in this facility, but current healthcare workers can come to retool skills, work to advance their position, acquire certifications, and more.”

Gaston College already works with public schools in Gaston, Lincoln and Cleveland counties to create a healthcare pathway for students, including its early college program, and Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, Hauser says. The college also partners with CaroMont Health, the state’s largest independent health care system, and Atrium and Novant, in its programs. The expansion will create opportunities for students and help healthcare across the region, he says.

Gaston College President John Hauser says $60 million investment will improve healthcare in Gaston County and region.

Gaston College would have never received the money from the state except for the partnerships it has already established with the school systems and healthcare agencies in the region, Hauser says.

The planned facility will be an expansion of the existing David Belk Cannon Health Institute on Gaston College’s Dallas campus. Intended services through the new facility are to include:

  •       Advanced health care education and development
  •       High-quality continuing education with healthcare-specific certifications
  •       Certificates, diplomas, associate degree programs
  •       Workforce development programs (industry certifications)
  •       Apprenticeship opportunities in four health science programs
  •       A cutting-edge healthcare technology-driven simulation center

It will help train not only nurses, but also healthcare therapists and technicians, says Peek.

 “This historic investment in our future healthcare workforce is an acknowledgment of the critical needs of our region. We know that in order to get ahead of the potential healthcare crisis, we must begin today to develop that talent pool of smart healthcare talent to fill the jobs we have and will need,” said state Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, who added he took courses at Gaston College while working toward his degree at UNC Charlotte.

“The Gaston College Health Science Education and Simulation Center will fundamentally transform health care in our region, and its positive impact will be felt for generations,” added freshman state Sen. Brad Overcash, R-Gaston.

Gaston County Commission Chair Chad Brown says $60 million investment in health care education will make Gaston County more attractive to businesses looking to locate.

Gaston County Board of Commission Chairman Chad Brown says the investment will also help economic developers attract new industry since it addresses both education and health care.

Gaston College’s existing healthcare program offers 13 health and human services programs, 13 university transfer partners, a health academy at East Gaston High School, and Gaston Early College of Medical Sciences through Gaston County Schools. Gaston College currently has 343 adults and 384 high school students enrolled in its health care programs.

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