Sharon Kinney shows off the new nursing simulation Wednesday at Central Maine Community College. The new facility is set up like a small wing of a hospital, including a nursing station and several hospital rooms with mannequins. Kinney is a nursing instructor. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

AUBURN — The nursing programs at Maine’s community colleges plan to double their capacity and add night and weekend classes beginning as soon as this fall, thanks to $5 million in new funding from a public-private partnership between the state and two of Maine’s largest health care networks.

The total enrollment in the nursing programs at the state’s seven community colleges is expected to increase to about 480 students per year.

Gov. Janet Mills included $2.5 million for the expansion in the supplemental state budget, which she signed last month. MaineHealth and Northern Light Health matched the state’s funding, bringing the total to $5 million, according to the Maine Community College System.

MCCS President David Daigler said the expanded program is “key to increasing the number of skilled nurses in Maine.”

“Some of our nursing programs have hundreds of applicants that are turned away because classes are full,” Daigler said in statement released to the news media. “At the same time, demand for nurses is at a crisis level.”

Beginning in January, Central Maine Community College in Auburn is expected to increase its capacity by nearly two-thirds, bringing the total enrollment to 104 students, from 64. CMCC is also set to add eight nursing faculty positions and three support staff positions.

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The additional staffing would allow CMCC to add night and weekend classes, President Betsy Libby said Wednesday.

Because the main issue has been staffing, not space, the expanded program will be able to utilize the existing teaching facilities and nursing labs.

“What the additional funding has allowed us to do is to have the faculty to manage the additional students,” including during clinical rotations at local hospitals, Libby said. “So we’ll be doing what we already do in the lab, but just all day long and in the evening and on weekends — like, the lab will never, never shut down.

Sharon Kinney stands in a control room of the nursing simulation Wednesday at Central Maine Community College. Instructors can observe students working in the hospital’s rooms and use a speaker to communicate as the patient. The sessions are taped and then reviewed with the students after a simulation. Kinney is a nursing instructor. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“The nursing program is a commitment. It is a full-time commitment to be a successful nursing student. And some students, for many reasons, can’t commit to a day program. So this just opens the door for students who need another option.”

Pat Scherle, the chief nursing officer for St. Mary’s Health System in Lewiston, described the additional funding and enrollment expansion as “exciting” and “wonderful.”

Like many hospitals and health care centers across the state and nation, St. Mary’s Health, which includes St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center and St. Mary’s d’Youville Pavilion in Lewiston, is dealing with a long-standing shortage of nurses, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Scherle said the expansion is expected to “help solve the issue, at least for this region in Maine.”

Every semester, St. Mary’s welcomes nursing students from CMCC and other nursing programs.

“That relationship with the college is strong,” Scherle said. “And it’s just exciting news for all of health care in Maine, absolutely.”

The funding is to be distributed across Maine’s community college campuses, including those in Androscoggin and Somerset counties.

Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield expects to increase its nursing enrollment by eight seats this fall and another eight the following semester, bringing the total enrollment to 56. It is also set to hire additional faculty and staff members.

The Maine Community College System also has campuses in Bangor, Calais, Presque Isle, South Portland and Wells.


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