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Fort Lewis College starts construction on new nursing facility

Multimillion dollar building will offer hands-on learning opportunities for pre-nursing students
From left, Maggie LaRose, director of Nursing at Fort Lewis College; Amy Barton, senior associate dean for faculty and students at CU Anschutz; FLC President Tom Stritikus; Shasta Hampton, FLC pre-nursing coordinator; Mario Martinez, FLC provost; and Fara Bowler, director of Clinical Education Center at CU Anschutz, break ground on the new FLC nursing facility on Wednesday, March 13, 2024. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Renovations are underway for Fort Lewis College’s new nursing facility.

The college is investing $2.9 million into renovating the Skyhawk Hall, located next to Whalen Gymnasium. In collaboration with University of Colorado Anschutz, the facility will house FLC’s newly added nursing program.

“When I came to Fort Lewis College, I saw the lack of a nursing program as a real gap in our offerings,” said FLC President Tom Stritikus. “And there had been discussions to start a nursing program. So our Board of Trustees and community members had really made the call like we need a nursing programs.”

The college received $1.3 million in congressionally directed spending for the new facility. Additional money came from the Anschutz Foundation, the Colorado Health Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Health Foundation and numerous individual donors.

“A huge thank you to Senators Bennett and Hickenlooper who were responsible for Fort Lewis receiving congressionally directed spending requests of $1.6 million that is providing a big aspect of this,” Stitikus said.

Similar to the facilities CU Nursing has built on the Anschutz Medical Campus and its satellite operation at Legacy, FLC’s health care training facility will feature a high-fidelity manikin lab, an outpatient office, a homelike setting and a clinical education area where students can practice clinical skills and telehealth.

Fort Lewis College President Tom Stritikus speaks on Wednesday, March 13, 2024, in Whalen Gymnasium before the groundbreaking of the new nursing facility at Skyhawk Hall on campus. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“We’re so excited to see progress. The groundbreaking brings us one step closer to delivering an exceptional health care educational experience for the students at Fort Lewis College and the southwestern part of the state,” said CU College of Nursing Dean Elias Provencio-Vasquez in a news release.

In 2022, FLC and CU Anschutz announced the “CU Nursing Fort Lewis College Collaborative.” The program provides a four-year nursing undergraduate degree, combining the resources of the state’s flagship medical program and FLC’s understanding of rural and Indigenous education.

Fara Bowler, CU Anschutz’s assistant dean of Clinical Simulation, has played an integral role throughout the design process.

Having been involved in several simulation facility construction projects, she brought knowledge and vision to support the project team.

In spring 2022, CU Nursing hosted the FLC project and facility managers at Anschutz Medical Campus to see the complexities of health care simulation firsthand.

“We are excited to extend the simulation curriculum to the Durango area,” Bowler said in a news release.

FLC will be under the umbrella of simulation operations for CU Nursing.

FLC President Tom Stritikus speaks on Wednesday, March 13, 2024, in Whalen Gymnasium before the groundbreaking of the new nursing facility at Skyhawk Hall on campus. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Maggie LaRose, director of nursing at FLC, said the new facilities will be ready when the first nursing cohort starts in June 2025. Students will have opportunities to learn in different environments, including office space for advisers, a classroom for students and simulation labs.

“One of the most exciting aspects of this project is that it was built by our community through philanthropy and community partnerships,” she said.

The manikins can be programmed for different health scenarios to which the students react as if it were real life. After working on a patient, students get to watch a video of their work and review what they did well and what needs improvement.

“Much learning happens through failure. In the sim lab, students can learn, practice and fail in a safe environment,” LaRose said in a news release. “The goal is that students learn in an atmosphere where the patient is talking to them, they have distractions, and they get to work in that complex environment before they progress into a clinical environment, so by the time they're working with patients they’ve had plenty of opportunities to practice in a safe environment.”

Ann McCarthy, a former Shiprock and Indian Health Services nurse practitioner, fully supports the facility. She said it’s a necessity in order to serve underserved rural and Indigenous communities.

Maggie LaRose, Fort Lewis College director of nursing, speaks on Wednesday, March 13, 2024, in Whalen Gymnasium before the groundbreaking of the new nursing facility at Skyhawk Hall on campus. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“Indigenous help is huge and totally an area where my heart is,” she said. “So I was very excited to hear that was going to be one of the focuses of this program.”

In 2018, the Government Accountability Office studied employment data from the IHS and concluded there were not enough health care providers in IHS service areas to provide quality health care to Indigenous people. The study showed an average vacancy rate of 25% for physicians, nurses and care providers.

The program is dedicated to curriculum that emphasizes community and Indigenous approaches to health care in order to bring health and equity to Durango and its surrounding communities. The grant also establishes scholarships to support students who will diversify the nursing profession and demonstrate a commitment to rural and Indigenous health care studies.

FLC placed an emphasis on the nursing program because of a nationwide nursing shortage that is even more prominent in rural areas. McCarthy said burnout from the COVID-19 pandemic had a severe impact on nurses leaving the workforce.

“I probably wouldn’t have retired as I did,” she said.

She said rural health care facilities tend to struggle recruiting talent in addition to having a lack of resources.

The college is focused on building a local nurse pipeline. Stritikus said he’s interested in collaborating with area school districts to help develop career pathways in health.


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