(Media release from Atrium Health Floyd):

A new partnership between Atrium Health Floyd and Georgia Highlands College (GHC) will increase the number of nursing student positions at the college and grow the number of nurses entering the work force in northwest Georgia.

The multi-year agreement builds on a 50-year history of collaboration between the organizations, said Kurt Stuenkel, president of Atrium Health Floyd. Atrium Health Floyd has provided clinical training programming, scholarships and career pathways for Georgia Highlands graduates for generations.

“This partnership expands the nursing program at Georgia Highlands College, so more residents in our region will have the opportunity to pursue careers in nursing,” Stuenkel said. “And, looking ahead, it will create a pipeline of highly trained nurses who can have long careers at Atrium Health Floyd.”

GHC President Mike Hobbs stated partnerships like this one continue to reinforce the access mission at GHC.

“We are the talent producer for our footprint,” Hobbs said. “The heart of our mission is to provide access to a high-quality college degree from the University System of Georgia that prepares you for a career. Our partnership with Atrium Health Floyd bolsters our ability to expand what we offer to more families in our region. The pathways we provide directly help our students prepare for and secure careers in our footprint.”

According to Steppingblocks, an institutional research company that collects and reports outcomes data, over 85% of GHC graduates go on to start a career in the northwest Georgia region.

“This agreement to provide a clear pathway from GHC’s nursing program to nursing careers in our community is an investment in our region that will benefit northwest Georgia for years to come,” said University System of Georgia Board of Regents member Lowery May. “GHC provides top-notch nursing graduates, and since the nursing program was founded, GHC has added over 3,500 nurses to the work force.”

The nursing program at GHC was established in 1971, and the program celebrated the 50th graduating class in 2022.

“This is a way to do something that’s good for the college, good for our health system and good for our community,” Stuenkel said. “These nurses will work side by side with our experienced clinicians and can advance in their careers to become nurse educators, leaders, nurse practitioners and healthcare providers in their own right. That is an incredible advantage for northwest Georgia and northeast Alabama.”

As part of the agreement, the health sciences and nursing programs at Georgia Highlands College will be named the Atrium Health Floyd School of Health Sciences and the Atrium Health Floyd Department of Nursing. These programs will be housed at GHC where nursing students complete their program, which is currently the Lakeview Building, on GHC’s main campus on U.S. 27 South in Rome, and at the James. D. Maddox Heritage Hall, 415 E. Third Ave. in Rome’s Between the Rivers historic district.

“The COVID-19 pandemic changed the landscape of nursing, especially hospital-based nursing. Many experienced nurses have retired, changed careers or been recruited to travel positions. This has resulted in a costly dependency on travel and agency clinicians,” said Sheila Bennett, senior vice president and chief of patient services at Atrium Health Floyd. “This is an investment to help Atrium Health Floyd grow a workforce that is ready to take care of our patients and their families and will directly impact the number of new nurses Atrium Health Floyd hires annually.”

Funds from the partnership will add scholarships, tuition assistance and financial assistance for learning materials. In addition, Atrium Health Floyd will fund a faculty position, and nurses from Atrium Health Floyd will serve as adjunct professors in the college’s nursing department. Atrium Health Floyd also will help purchase simulation equipment for training.

“Our agreement with Atrium Health Floyd will open doors and create opportunities for students in our region who are interested in careers in the health sciences,” said Dr. Lisa Jellum, dean of the Atrium Health Floyd School of Health Sciences. “Our students will benefit from more training opportunities as they build relationships right here in our community, and our graduates will have the opportunity to enter the work force in professional positions with attractive salaries and benefits.”

“Atrium Health Floyd and Georgia Highlands College are in a unique position to help local residents make a positive and lasting impact on our community and to change lives,” Stuenkel said. “Together, we will be better positioned to educate a healthcare workforce for jobs in our community. Our patients will benefit from excellent care from well-trained hands, and our community will realize an economic impact from the students who choose to work, live and raise their families right here in northwest Georgia.”