A statewide nursing association has outlined longstanding concerns with the Dona Ana Community College nursing school and advised three steps to fix it.
The New Mexico Nurses Association, a professional group with about 530 paid members, sent a letter, dated Friday, to campus officials in recent days.
The group noted that the national accrediting organization warned DACC in 2003 that its teaching staff needed master's degrees in nursing, according to the letter. Plus, the college was on notice about high faculty turnover rates, according to the Santa Fe-based association.
Nurses association Executive Director Carolyn Roberts, in the letter, said the lack of action by DACC President Margie Huerta to correct the situation was "especially troubling."
"The DACC nursing program has the highest full-time faculty turnover rates in the U.S.," the group claimed. "Program directors are usually there two years or less! It is not just a matter of salary but of many issues associated with the work environment."
The rejected accreditation could worsen what's already a nursing shortage in New Mexico, negatively impacting health care, the letter stated.
The group addressed the letter to Barbara Couture, president of DACC's parent institution, New Mexico State University. But it copied Huerta, N.M.SU Provost Wendy Wilkins, Gov. Susana Martinez, the Sun-News and the El Paso Times.
Many of the 100 students impacted by the accreditation denial, as well as
members of the local nursing community, have also criticized Huerta and her oversight of the nursing program. Some have said bad hiring practices and poor morale have been problematic.
Huerta has said the lack of faculty with master's degrees was a factor in the accreditation denial. She said hiring has been difficult because of low salaries and that NMSU officials have committed to raising them. Huerta also has pointed to improvements in testing scores as a sign of progress in recent years.
NMSU officials announced this week scholarships for DACC students who were forced to transfer to a separate, main-campus nursing school because of the recent loss of accreditation. The students must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA.
University officials couldn't say Tuesday how many students had taken them up on the offer.
Couture, in a statement, said NMSU is still committed to finding a solution for every nursing student impacted and is communicating with them individually.
"We are continuing to make progress and are finalizing decisions," she said.
Jaylene McIntosh, development director for DACC, said Tuesday the college is still working toward re-accreditation for the nursing school.
"We are pursuing it expeditiously and taking all the necessary steps to ensure that happens," said McIntosh, also a spokeswoman for the college.
Roberts said her organization, through its Las Cruces members, has kept close tabs on the DACC program, which has had problems for about a decade.
"It's mainly because we've had all these connections over the years with the Las Cruces community that we've gotten involved," she said in an interview.
Roberts said her group was pleased to hear this week's news that university officials have offered scholarships to current DACC students.
To correct the DACC nursing program situation, the Roberts' letter advised campus officials take three steps:
--Hire a new program director who has both clinical and teaching experience at a community college, who'd be able to "quickly build ties for recruiting qualified faculty."
-- Hire the right number of master's-level faculty to satisfy the standards of the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, which is the Georgia-based accreditation group.
-- Hire a consultant picked by the nursing program director and OK'd by the NLNAC who has had experience working with community college nursing programs.
The nursing association said following its suggestions could result in a "provisional accreditation" that could get students back on track and would help "revamp" the school to attract faculty, according to the letter.
A spokesman for the governor's office said the letter hadn't yet been received there.
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