College of the Redwoods


Cal Poly Humboldt

College Matters | CR works to address local health care needs

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, September 21, 2023 - 12:45pm

College of the Redwoods and Cal Poly Humboldt have long voiced our concerns over the lack of nurses in our community. In May, a report from Capital Public Radio in Sacramento projected that California will need more than 44,000 additional nurses by 2030 to adequately meet the growing demand. Further, data from the Hospital Association of Southern California reveals that local hospitals are grappling with nursing vacancy rates that exceed 30%.

This critical shortage not only highlights the importance of our collective efforts but also emphasizes the urgent need for creative and strategic solutions that will help protect our region from the worst outcomes of the health vcare shortage. The innovative CR/CPH Healthcare Hub Education Center in Arcata is one project that illustrates Sen. Mike McGuire’s, Dr. Tom Jackson’s, and my attempt to address the shortage of nurses in our area.

CR knows that central to building a strong nursing workforce, is creating a nurse-education system that has the capacity to supply enough nursing graduates to meet the demands of our health care system. CR and Cal Poly Humboldt are continuing to invest in our nursing programs to help nurses attain associate and bachelor’s degrees, which would increase training levels, wages, and career advancement.

Additionally, last spring, CR began transitioning our RN program from a lottery-based admissions system with a waitlist to a merit-based point system. We believe that this shift from the lottery to a merit-based approach will allow us to graduate more nurses successfully, reduce the number of students who disengage from the program mid-cohort, and ultimately reduce the number of years eligible applicants are waiting to be admitted to the program.

Under this new system, applicants will be assessed based on a range of criteria, including academic performance, work or volunteer experience, proficiency in languages other than English, life experiences, special circumstances, and performance on a diagnostic assessment test (TEAS).

Top-ranked applicants who apply in the spring will now be able to start their nursing program in the fall, eliminating the previous wait times of 2-4 years for eligible candidates. We plan to have fully exhausted the waitlist, with 100% of admissions coming from the new merit-based application system, by the academic year 2025-26.

While we all would like to focus on training local residents, it is important to note that the California Community College Chancellor’s Office and the Board of Registered Nursing provide strict guidelines for the point allocation categories, and giving points based on place of residency is considered discriminatory and is not permitted.

In addition to this change in the application process, we secured a $182,400 grant to support expanding enrollment in our RN program. This will allow us to admit two additional cohorts in the spring of 2024. One on the Eureka campus and another in Del Norte. Each additional cohort will have 10 students, consequently adding an additional 20 students to the program.

We are very aware that expanding our RN program comes with its own set of challenges. Limited availability of clinical placement sites in hospitals and clinics in rural areas means that considerations must be made to ensure that adding more cohorts does not negatively impact other health care programs, such as paramedics, emergency medical technicians, medical assistants, and nurse practitioners, which also rely on these clinical sites.

Additionally, we have to hire more faculty, which is also very challenging, as most nurses can earn significantly more working in local health care facilities than they can in higher education.

The College of the Redwoods’ transition to a merit-based admissions system in tandem with the expanded cohorts and continued collaboration with Cal Poly Humboldt and our health care partners, represents a promising step towards addressing the nursing shortage crisis in our area. However, the challenges ahead underscore the complexity of the issue, highlighting the need for continued collaboration and innovative solutions to meet the growing demand for nurses in the region.

Dr. Keith Flamer is the president of the College of the Redwoods.