Campus Life / Education / Health / Science

Shuttered hospital transformed into medical college hub

MARION, Va. (AP) — A new patient is occupying the exam rooms of a Smyth County hospital that hasn’t accepted sick people in years.

The patient’s name is SimMan 3G and he has a lot of issues: He bleeds. He goes into shock. He moans in pain.

SimMan 3G is a high fidelity simulation mannequin and is the centerpiece equipment in a simulation lab for students at the Emory & Henry College School of Health Sciences Marion campus. The campus is located at the site of the old Smyth County Hospital, built in 1965, but closed for four years until 2016.

Through $13.3 million in renovations, the college has not only repurposed an old building to create a learning hub, but is also helping to reinvigorate a Southwest Virginia community.

The goal of the school is to educate young people in a highly interactive and hands-on environment, as well as to provide health care to Southwest Virginia, an area that school officials say lacks health care professionals, said Louise Fincher, dean of Emory & Henry’s School of Health Sciences.

Currently, the school offers graduate-level degrees in occupational and physical therapy and will offer a master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies next spring.

“We’re contributing to the common good,” said Jake Schrum, Emory & Henry’s president. “We’re not only teaching people to do well, but to do good, too.”

And the school has just gone a step further: It is providing new housing in a building near the renovated hospital for a free clinic that opened last month. The school also plans to open a falls prevention center for seniors and an obesity research center in the near future, Fincher said.

The medical campus, which began teaching students two years ago, is a symbol in Marion, a town with a population of about 6,000.

Last week, banners proudly displaying the E&H abbreviation waved in the breeze to welcome students to classes.

There are currently about 90 students enrolled in the school. By next spring, that number will grow with a new class in the physician assistant program, Fincher said. College officials hope 300 students will roam the halls by 2020, she said. Those are attractive numbers for a college with about 1,000 students.

Emory & Henry’s presence represents the first time since the 1960s that a four-year college has made a significant investment in the area, town officials said. And it’s already brought changes to Marion.

Marion leaders really wanted to see something come into the former hospital building, after Smyth County’s Community Hospital relocated to a new $66 million facility in 2012.

“It would’ve been a shame for this building to be torn down or sit here empty,” Fincher said.

When the move was only in the planning stages, local retired dentist Henderson Graham hatched the idea for Emory & Henry to move health sciences programming into the old Smyth County Community Hospital, his son and Smyth County Circuit Court Clerk John Graham said.

Henderson Graham, who died three years ago, took the idea to the college as well as to the Smyth County Foundation, which gave the college $5.5 million toward the $13.3 million project, said the younger Graham, who is currently chairman of the foundation. The rest of the funding came from the college and grants.

“It’s given us a sense of hope around here. When the whole community comes together, great things can happen,” Graham said. “Even in surprising and unexpected ways.”

Since the school began classes two years ago, Marion’s economic development director Ken Heath estimated 40 apartments have been added to downtown Marion. There’s also more energy in town as students interact with community members, he said.

“It’s absolutely huge,” Heath said. “It’s one of the biggest game changers we’ve had here.”

Chase Edwards, a second-year student in the physical therapy program, said he’s enjoyed getting to know the community around his cohort. If he walks around town wearing Emory & Henry colors, people will stop him to say hello and ask what he thinks of Marion, he said.

“It never ceases to amaze me, the hospitality that this community has,” he said.

Edwards said based on his experience in Marion, if a career opportunity opened up in the area, he would be interested. He likes the feel of the town that’s similar to his native Unicoi, Tennessee, a small town near Johnson City.

That attitude is what educators want to see from some of their students, Fincher said.

“We’re not just preparing students based on content areas,” Fincher said, “but also educating them about civic engagement.”

Emory & Henry is making a special effort to reach out to locals in need of medical care, school officials said.

In August, the Mel Leaman Free Clinic moved into a facility on the E&H campus after the school’s classes were moved into the main hospital building.

The clinic has offered free health care for low-income uninsured people in Smyth County for more than 10 years — seeking to offer a solution to what’s a major issue in Southwest Virginia. In fact, its facility had become cramped as of late, said the clinic’s executive director Michael Armbrister. With the new facility the clinic is now accepting patients from nearby Grayson and Washington counties, too.

The college offered a space in a building at the medical school free of charge. In exchange, students can get their clinical hours and observe professionals in the field from their first week on campus, Armbrister said.

“It really is a win-win,” he said.

But before students are helping with patients, they’ll be working in the simulation lab with two high fidelity simulation mannequins as well as actor-patients, said Scott Richards, director of the physician assistant program.

Richards said students will go through the simulations individually and in teams to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to lifelike mannequins.

Afterward, students will be able to meet with faculty and watch video of interactions to improve.

The outreach, patient interaction and simulations create an attractive atmosphere for students, according to Schrum, the college’s president. According to Richards, there have been hundreds of applications for 30 spots in the first physician assistant program that starts next spring.

At Emory & Henry’s Marion health sciences campus, students will know they’re valued not just based on banners along Main Street, but also through high tech programming and special attention to student needs, Schrum said.

“At so many other colleges these programs are shoved in a basement of a medical school,” Schrum said. “It’s not like that here.”


Information from: The Roanoke Times,
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