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Harford college expansion to serve health care students

Students in the EMT program at Harford Community College will soon learn to treat patients while in an ambulance, but the big, boxy vehicles won’t be anywhere in sight.

The beginning stages of construction on Darlington Hall at Harford Community College, which will become the new Nursing and Allied Health Building. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Students will simply step inside the simulator.

“The box actually moves like an ambulance would, so students learn to work even while hitting a bump,” said Zoann Parker, associate vice president for continuing education. “So instead of standing up, you may be on your knees or at a very awkward angle holding an IV bag or an oxygen mask. You may be typing with one hand on your iPad, sending patient stats to the ER so when you pull up, they already have all the information about the patient. And in real life, when you’re in that situation, you’ll be able to do it.”

The ambulance simulator is one of many high-tech features planned for the $18.3 million Darlington Hall, which will bring almost 52,000 square feet of classroom, lab and office space to the HCC campus in Bel Air for the nearly 2,200 students enrolled in the nursing and allied health programs.

Construction began in June, but Tuesday is the official groundbreaking for the new building, near Thomas Run Road. Officials hope it will be fully functional by August 2014, but Parker said that’s not the date they are focusing on.

“I do not want to build a building for 2014; I want to build a building that will be functional and timely for 2020 and beyond,” Parker said. “So I’d say the biggest frustration right now is knowing what to program for and what technology to put in, because the medical world is advancing so quickly. That’s the direction we want to take this, but we have absolutely, positively no way of knowing what direction that is.”

To figure it out, HCC officials said they’re consulting with health care providers, nursing homes and other groups in the area — such as Upper Chesapeake Health and local emergency responders — to learn which skills are in high demand and how programs should be designed to produce qualified graduates.

“Health care is a major industry in Harford County, so you would want the community college to have the best resources and the best equipment available for these students, because they’re most likely going to get jobs in the county,” said Laura Cianelli Preston, dean of nursing and allied health professions.

Classrooms for the future

Darlington Hall — which will emphasize technology, hands-on learning and collaborative work spaces — will be the first building on campus to serve two kinds of students: those enrolled in for-credit programs and those taking classes within the Continuing Education department, which includes certification and other training programs.

Traditionally, classes for those groups have been separate, Parker said, but HCC is seeing an increasing number of non-traditional students seeking training for careers in health care, and officials want to offer them the highest-quality education. That means using the same facilities and equipment for both types of classes, she said.

“In this building, a student is a student, no matter whether you’re doing a certificate program, an associate’s degree program or if you’re taking continuing education classes to reinforce your skills or to actually join the health care field — because we’re seeing a lot of people who are doing that,” Parker said. “We’re trying to get our students — all our students — ready for this new wave in technology-driven health care.”

In the “simulation suite” on the third floor, students will practice medical procedures in settings that mimic the real world, Cianelli Preston said.

One classroom will replicate a doctor’s office, complete with a record-keeping room and a waiting area. Another will simulate a hospital setting, with different scenarios playing out simultaneously. Students will tend to $75,000 computerized mannequins that can give birth, have seizures, respond to light and more.

“Today’s education is not about memorization and regurgitation,” Parker said. “It’s about project management — teaching people how to think. Once you know how to place a catheter or give an injection, then what we need to do is give you the experience of what can happen in an emergency room and the confidence to deal with it.”

After a simulation, students head to the debriefing room, where they will review footage of themselves and analyze their performance with an instructor. They’ll repeat the procedure until they get it right, Parker said, “so that in real life, when you don’t have that reset button, you won’t need it.”

The college already uses many of these tools, but not on the same scale or with the same ease, officials said. Having all the health-related programs under one roof will enable the school to stretch its resources, Cianelli Preston added. In the past, professors lugged $5,000 IV pumps between multiple campus buildings — now, the equipment can stay put.

The physical structures within the building are adaptable to accommodate advances in medical technology.

“Our building is very mobile internally,” Parker said. “Things aren’t bolted down. Seats aren’t stuck facing one way. We want everything to be collaborative. The desks, the counters will be moveable. We’ll be able to reconfigure everything and be proactive, instead of reactive, in addressing new medical needs and opportunities as they arise.”

Pricey digs

Those features don’t come cheap, however. Throughout the planning phase, officials had to scale back their wish list of amenities when they realized they were over budget. Ultimately, the state and county chipped in more than initially allocated.

State officials are footing most of the bill — about $10.6 million. Harford County put up about $7.5 million, and the college kicked in $235,000, according to Nancy Dysard, HCC’s director of marketing and public relations.

They’re still unsure whether they’ll have enough to fund some amenities, Cianelli Preston said, such as a $200,000 “collaborative classroom,” in which students’ desks are outfitted with computers and other gadgets to enable group work.

“I think we’ll get most of [the technology] we wanted for the building, but some of it will have to be spread out over a few years,” she said. “We’re starting to sit down and make some really hard decisions in terms of prioritizing, but I think we’ll get everything we need for our programs.”

The college’s tech-savvy aspirations are being helped by a $25,000 grant from CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, which HCC received in May to develop an electronic health records system. EHRs are becoming a dominant technology in the medical community, and few institutions other than large teaching hospitals have the means to install them for training purposes.