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Billings hospitals donate land to MSU to boost nursing program

Posted at 9:45 PM, Mar 26, 2024

BILLINGS — A nursing shortage is plaguing hospitals across the nation, including Montana, with many professionals "burnt out" from the pandemic or retiring from the workforce.

It's a problem that many Montana institutions are trying to solve. Thanks to a generous donation to Montana State University's nursing program from Mark and Robyn Jones in 2021, five new nursing schools are breaking ground in cities across the state, including Billings.

The new building will be on a site donated to MSU by St. Vincent Healthcare and Billings Clinic.

“What we were able to do is really partner with Billings Clinic to provide a land gift for the nursing school, and we’re so excited to see that go up, and it’s right in the center of the two campuses,” said Melissa Filter, chief nursing officer for St. Vincent Healthcare.

St. Vincent Healthcare chief nursing officer Melissa Filter

Nursing students will get the best of both worlds being within walking distance of the two hospitals. Nursing education buildings are also being built in Bozeman, Great Falls, Kalispell and Missoula.

“We’re really excited to celebrate with MSU College of Nursing because groundbreaking is on April 11 at 2 o' clock in the afternoon,” Filter said.

For Billings Clinic emergency department manager Brad VonBergen, it's a full circle moment. With over 30 years of nursing under his belt, the MSU alum says the nursing education building is much needed.

“After the pandemic, it really just changed everything,” VonBergen said Tuesday.

“People retired, people left the nursing profession, they picked other professions where their nursing degree was used but it wasn’t necessarily direct patient care. And we had to rely on travel nurses,” he added.

Billings Clinic ER manager Brad VonBergen

According to a 2020 summary of the results of the National Council State Board of Nursing from the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, about 18% of the state's employed registered nurses and nearly 50% of licensed practical nurses said they planned on retiring or leaving the profession within the next five years.

“In the next ten years, there’s going to be 1,000 nursing openings between RNs and LPNs,” said Molly Collins, the director of the Rural Eastern Montana Nursing Expansion program at City College at MSU Billings.

Collins has seen it first hand while visiting hospitals across southeastern Montana. Hospitals, she says, have unfilled positions waiting for qualified nurses.

City College at MSU Billings Rural Eastern Montana Nursing Expansion program director

“I think travel nurses are great but I think the idea that if we can get folks from Montana to fill the spaces we have and become nurses that are from Montana, then we can really help these rural communities, these Eastern Montana, and all Montana communities for sure,” Collins added.

It's a big step in the right direction, aimed at recruiting more students into the nursing profession, but one that will take time.

“We’re not preparing for tomorrow, we’re preparing for the next five to ten years, so what we’re doing is building that base of strong nurses,” said VonBergen.