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Mercy plan designed to ease nurse shortage

St. Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown needs nurses, and officials there are tired of looking for them in the Philippines.

“When you send your people out to Manila to try and recruit nurses, you know you have a problem,” says Patricia McAllen.

She spent the last year working on an alternative that turned out to be a whole lot closer - Toledo.

Mercy College of Northwest Ohio, located near downtown Toledo, will open a satellite campus this month in Youngstown in conjunction with Humility of Mary Health Partners, which owns St. Elizabeth and another hospital.

The college will offer its associate degree in nursing program out of a remodeled floor on the St. Elizabeth campus beginning Monday. “We just see it as an opportunity to help meet a health care shortage,” said Dr. Martha Shouldis, Mercy College vice president of academic affairs. “That's what we're in business for.”

The growing college on Madison Avenue specializes in nursing and allied health education. It has more than 400 students - 38 percent more than last year - and expects to add a class of 30 in Youngstown.

The college has hired two people to teach nursing and religion classes at the new campus and has an agreement with Kent State University's Trumbull campus to provide general education and science courses, Dr. Shouldis said.

St. Elizabeth had its own diploma school from 1911 to 1996, when it was closed for economic reasons. The hope at the time was that Youngstown State University would provide the necessary nurses, but it hasn't been enough, said Mrs. McAllen, coordinator of the new satellite campus.

“We just don't have enough nurses,” she said. “We have a severe shortage in this area.”

This is by no means unique in the state, because the average age of the nursing force in Ohio is nearing 50, said Gingy Harshey-Meade, chief executive officer of the Ohio Nurses Association.

“The basic thing is most nurses are baby boomers, and as they retire, there aren't significant numbers coming in behind them,” she said.

Things got so bad at St. Elizabeth that it started looking abroad and recruited nurses from the Philippines, where the profession is one of the few opportunities available to women. Those nurses are expected to begin working at St. Elizabeth later this year, a hospital official said.

Officials eventually approached Mercy College about bringing its nursing program to Youngstown as the quickest solution to the problem.

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