In mid-October, Southern Hills Economic Development Director of Economic Development Andrea Powers, state Secretary of Veteran Affairs Larry Zimmerman, Michael J. Fitzmaurice State Veterans Home Superintendent Brad Richardson, Director of Nursing Susan Wilcox and Business Manager Jeff Haier met with staff of Western Dakota Tech to finalize a new scholarship program in the Health Services Professions.
The meeting was a culmination of lengthy discussions and planning meetings dating to a discussion in early March between Powers and Zimmerman. According to Powers, Zimmerman was lamenting the high turnover of nurses at the State Vets Home and mentioned that some hospitals in the eastern part of the state had paid the fees for several nursing students to complete the program of training.
“A light came on for me,” said Powers. “I’d been working with the Build Dakota Scholarship Program for a couple of years and remembered that nursing is one of the high-needs careers the scholarship program covers. I wasn’t sure how it might come together, but Larry was enthusiastic and said he would put me in touch with Susan Wilcox, director of nursing at the home.”
Powers called Wilcox and she was enthusiastic about the possibility of sponsoring students through the nursing program as she had gone through nursing school with the assistance of a similar program. Together, they worked through a time frame and a set of expectations for students to be sponsored, which includes completion the CNE program at the State Vets Home, an apprenticeship before applying to Western Dakota Tech, and a three-year commitment to work for the State Vets Home after completion of the nursing program.
Brad Richardson immediately saw the potential to increase retention of nurses at the Hot Springs facility.
“Hiring people who are from the community increases the possibility that they will stay in the community for the length of the nursing career,” he said. In addition to formalizing the scholarship program, the meeting with WDT staff created the opportunity to brainstorm further partnerships such as student clinicals at the State Vet’ Home and nursing scholarships for current employees of the home who would like to further their profession.
“Helping with scholarships for young nursing students is way past due,” Zimmerman said. “Healthcare worker shortages exist nationwide. This is South Dakota Veteran Affairs’ way of trying to ease that shortage. We want young folks to stay local and make a good wage.”
“Talent retention is a strategic goal for Southern Hills Economic Development Corporation,” said Powers. “And providing opportunities for youth to stay in the county and earn a living in a fulfilling career is part of that goal. Partnerships are essential to economic vitality and the State Vets Home has been a partner willing to think out of the box and create a pilot program unique across the state.”
The state-sponsored nursing scholarship will be available to students from Fall River County. For more information about the Build Dakota Scholarship visit https://www.builddakotascholarships.com