AUGUSTA — A renowned nursing educator told several hundred nurses and nursing students Monday that as hospitals have become more bureaucratic and driven by profit, nursing has been detoured away from its foundation of caring.

The day-long program at the Augusta Civic Center by Jean Watson, former dean of the University of Colorado Denver College of Nursing, covered her theory of human caring and how to create caring nursing environments.

Edie Welch, a nurse manager for MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta, said she attended the program because she had learned about Watson’s theories in nursing literature and at college. It’s important to take the time to ask patients how they are doing and what is worrying them because it’s possible their ailments could be caused by some unknown stressors in their lives, Welch said.

That kind of one-on-one care can be neglected when health care providers focus too much on new technology and regulations, she said.

“The hope is that (Watson’s theory) can be really implemented in the daily practice that will really affect the direction of nursing and the level of personal care,” said Welch, of Belgrade.

While speaking from a lectern at the civic center, Watson was surrounded by plants with strings of white lights, and dark curtains hung across the walls and bleachers of the auditorium. Watson, who lives in Colorado but travels the world giving similar seminars, was recently named a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing for her contributions to the nursing profession.

“It’s given hope to nurses around the world,” Watson said of her work.

Carey S. Clark, an assistant professor at the University of Maine at Augusta who helped organize the program, said she has implemented the theory, which emphasizes providing compassionate care to patients, into the curriculum of UMaine-Augusta’s bachelor of science in nursing completion program. The university, along with MaineGeneral Health, sponsored the program Monday.

Clark said the reason most people got into nursing is to care for people and help them through their suffering.

“That’s really why we need this theory, to provide us the tools so we can care deeply for people,” she said.

Clark said another important takeaway from the theory is that nurses need to care for themselves as well. Part of the program required the roughly 460 participants to begin their own self-care plans.

There are around 370 students in UMA nursing programs, according to Sheri Fraser, dean of enrollment services at UMA. The university is phasing out the two-year associate program and replacing it with a bachelor of science in nursing program launched this year in collaboration with the University of Maine at Fort Kent, Fraser said. The university also has the bachelor of science in nursing completion program it started in 2009, she said.

Watson said she now works with hospitals and health care providers to implement a human caring model. Around 300 health care institutions across the country use her theory to some extent, she said, but she didn’t know of any hospitals in Maine using her model.

Watson said her theory honors the depth of humanity and the human caring process that’s missing in the country’s medical system. As hospitals became more bureaucratic, nursing detoured away from its foundation of caring, she said.

A goal is to eventually shift the focus of health care and the funding for it to a model that will help people stay well, Watson said. It’s more than just preventive care, she said, because the ideal focus is about staying well and not just preventing illness. Watson said people can be helped to deal with daily pain and suffering.

Andrea Ando-Albert, a nurse at MaineGeneral Medical Center, agreed with Welch that technology and the need to document what’s being provided can get in the way of the one-on-one care with patients.

“It’s cold,” she said of the computer-based process of serving patients. “It doesn’t reflect that warmth we were talking about.”

Ando-Albert, of Manchester, said she thinks because Watson is so recognized and accomplished, she’s been able to be a driving force to implement some changes in the health care industry.

“It really puts a human side to care that is now very medical-oriented and science-oriented,” she said. “It’s as (Watson) said, love is what heals.”