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CHI St. Francis, Grand Island Public Schools collaborate on $5.92 million learning lab

CHI St. Francis, Grand Island Public Schools collaborate on $5.92 million learning lab

Project will benefit future health care workers

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Until now, the eighth floor of CHI Health St. Francis has been an empty space. But soon it will be used to fill young minds with medical knowledge.

In a partnership between Grand Island Public Schools and CHI Health St. Francis, the eighth floor of the hospital tower will be transformed into a learning lab encompassing 20,522 square feet.

The $5.92 million project, announced Thursday, will be known as the Grand Island Senior High Academy of Medical Sciences at CHI Health St. Francis. It will provide juniors and seniors with training and exposure to a variety of health care careers.

Expected to be ready for the 2022-23 school year, the lab will serve more than 450 area high school students. Organizers describe it as a “school within a hospital.”

‘Real world experiences’

“There is so much to love about this project,” GISH Superintendent Tawana Grover said Thursday.

She’s excited that Grand Island Public Schools is receiving such a gift from CHI St. Francis. “They are really allowing us the opportunity to partner with the medical community to help make Grand Island a health care hub,” she said.

In a news release, Grover said that “allowing students to learn on-site at the hospital, in a larger space that’s specifically designed to complement our current pathway, will do more than we could ever imagine.”

Grover said she believes that working side-by-side with health care professionals will “provide fun and relevant learning opportunities that will make a huge impact on our students’ futures.”

For students, “our goal is for them to have hands-on, real-world experiences and this makes it pretty real,” Grover said in an interview. “When they’re able to come into the hospital and work alongside the experts, it’s going to really give them an opportunity to understand more in detail what there is to offer in the medical field — probably far beyond what they ever imagined.”

The academy’s features

The academy will include two large simulation pathway labs, four additional labs, two classrooms, several smaller break-out rooms and a large learning lab and lobby for gathering.

Students will alternate days of hands-on learning at the hospital with traditional in-classroom days at GISH. While at the hospital, students will simulate bedside care using electronic patient mannequins, work through emergency care protocols in an ambulance, learn how physical therapists assess sports injuries and repair high-tech medical equipment.

Twenty faculty members, collaborating with St. Francis providers and employees, will teach in the new space. Job shadowing and mentoring opportunities at the hospital will also be offered as part of the curriculum.

The free program is open to area high school students interested in the medical field.

Private funding

The Academy of Medical Sciences at CHI Health St. Francis will be built at no cost to taxpayers, which is “one of the exciting benefits” of the project, Grover said. It will be funded through business and private donations.

“Due to this gift from CHI, there will be no additional tax burden on our community,” she said in an interview. “By having a strong strategic plan and a focus on how we think about the future of Grand Island, we’ve really been able to come together as collaborative partners to think about how we pool our resources together.”

Both the Grand Island Public Schools Foundation and the St. Francis Foundation “will be working alongside our business partners and others in the community so that they can help be a part of this vision as well,” Grover said.

St. Francis and GIPS began fundraising several months ago, presenting design schematics to area businesses.

Building the academy will take an estimated 12 months to complete once funds are raised.

CHI St. Francis will lease the space, a $7.2 million value, to the school system for 20 years for a token fee.

“The gift from CHI Health is what we would have or could have charged to lease this building to somebody,” CHI St. Francis President Ed Hannon said in an interview. No rent will be charged to the school district. “That’s our gift to them.”

Floors purposely left vacant

When the tower was built a decade ago, the eighth and ninth floors were deliberately left vacant.

“They were built with the intention of building for future growth, whatever the community needs were,” Hannon said.

In addition to the eighth floor, high school students will also have access to the seventh floor, which is home to “some of our high-tech learning equipment,” Hannon said. Hospital staff members will continue to use that equipment for continuing education. But it will also be used by high school students and “our partners who come out here from the colleges, for the nursing programs and other technical fields,” Hannon said.

After graduation, academy students can use their acquired skills for college or to enter the job market. Those who choose not to pursue higher education, roughly 40%, will be eligible for several careers including CNAs, EMTs, health care techs and admissions clerks.

Last school year, 104 academy students earned their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certifications, many working in health care during the pandemic.

“COVID-19 showed the nation how vital skilled medical providers are for the health and safety of any community,” Hannon said in the news release. “The academy, and the opportunity to ‘grow our own,’ is a forward-thinking way for St. Francis to give back to the community which has supported our hospital for 133 years. This partnership with the Grand Island Public Schools will benefit the community well into the future.”

Career possibilities

Hannon said he believes time spent at St. Francis will be invaluable in helping students navigate the 250 possible careers in health care.

“Students will discover what it’s really like to work in health care — and what careers they’re most interested in pursuing,” he said in the news release. “They’ll forge connections with our staff who’ve been in their shoes and are now in their corner.”

“We are thrilled to be able to partner with our friends from the CHI Health St. Francis Foundation to make this dream a reality to our students,” Traci Skalberg of the GIPS Foundation said in the release.

An instant workforce is a valuable resource, said Dave Taylor, president of the Grand Island Area Economic Development Corp., as Grand Island’s population is shifting and will soon be home to more residents 75 years and older than children five years and younger.

“Grand Island’s population shift will surely affect all segments of the community — business, housing, education and especially health care,” Taylor said in the release. “The investment in the Academy of Medical Sciences at CHI Health St. Francis is a multi-faceted, long-term economic strategy to develop a highly qualified, empathetic, and engaged workforce. The partnership between CHI Health St. Francis and Grand Island Public Schools enables Grand Island to be one step closer to a budding health care hub in Central Nebraska.”

For more information about the academy or to pledge a gift, call the St. Francis Foundation at 308-398-5400.

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