Southeast, Three Rivers square off over nursing program

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Saint Francis Medical Center can't get a nurse-training program started because of an ongoing feud between Southeast Missouri State University and Three Rivers Community College.

The Poplar Bluff, Mo.-based community college wanted to offer both the general education courses and the nursing courses that would allow licensed practical nurses to get the training needed to become registered nurses.

But that conflicted with the desire of Southeast to offer the general education courses.

Southeast's president, Dr. Ken Dobbins, said state education policy gives priority to his school to offer general education classes in Cape Girardeau County. But Three Rivers executive vice president Larry Kimbrough says the policy doesn't exclude his school from doing so.

He said Three Rivers already was teaching general-education courses at the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center as part of an industrial technology degree before the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education's adoption of the policy in December 2003.

Kimbrough said Three Rivers believes it's grandfathered in and can legally teach general education classes along with the nursing courses. College officials also contend the policy amounts to a guideline that doesn't have the force of law.

Three Rivers officials say they approached Saint Francis Medical Center several months ago with a proposal to teach all the courses. At a meeting on Aug. 29, Saint Francis Medical Center proposed a three-way partnership, Kimbrough said.

The hospital wanted the two schools to work together to teach the nursing program. Dobbins said Southeast would agree to teaching the general education courses and Three Rivers teaching the nursing courses. Southeast does not offer LPN-to-RN nursing courses.

Medical center officials said it would have met the needs of many of the center's LPNs who want to further their careers.

"There is a tremendous community need, not just now but in the future," said Steven Bjelich, medical center president.

Southeast Missouri Hospital in Cape Girardeau has its own nursing school. The hospital provides the nursing training; the university teaches the general education courses.

'The middle ground'

But Bjelich said there's still a need for another nursing program.

He said the medical center would provide classroom space for free. "We offered the middle ground," he said.

But Kimbrough said it isn't cost-effective for Three Rivers to offer only the nursing courses.

Saint Francis initially proposed to start the program with only a dozen students but "even at 26 students, we lose money without the general-education classes," Kimbrough said.

"We still want to do it, but we would like to do the whole program," he said.

Bjelich said that won't happen.

The medical center president still hopes to start the nursing program by early next year. One possibility is to form a partnership between Southeast and Mineral Area College, a two-year college at Park Hills, Mo.

Under such an arrangement, Mineral Area College would teach the nursing courses. Southeast would teach the general education courses.

Mineral Area College president Terry Barnes said his school is interested but that it won't act until it's certain that Three Rivers and Southeast won't reach an agreement.

Southeast and Three Rivers have been at odds since February when the university dissolved its partnership in the teaching of college courses at three Bootheel higher education centers.

Southeast took over the teaching of classes at the centers in Kennett, Malden and Sikeston this summer. Three Rivers officials accused Southeast of breaching an agreement in which the community college paid rent to teach classes in the centers.

In March, Three Rivers filed a lawsuit against Southeast.

Three Rivers has opened six education centers to compete with Southeast's three centers.

335-6611, extension 123

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