June 14, 2006

New RSU Lab to Prepare Students for Public Health Threats

A new learning laboratory at Rogers State University will help prepare nursing students for two new major public health threats: bioterrorism and the emergence of antibiotic-resistant diseases.

The rise in communicable diseases caused by antibiotic-resistant organisms, the increased threat of bioterrorism, and the use of immunosuppressant drugs have enhanced the importance of a protected hospital environment, according to Linda Andrews, head of the RSU Department of Health Sciences and coordinator of the nursing program.

"A controlled environment has always been important in health care and isolated patient rooms have been utilized in the treatment of various diseases for quite some time," Andrews said. "But due to recent developments, isolation care has never been more important to protect patients as well as health care providers."

The protected patient care environment is the primary feature of the new Acute Care Nursing Laboratory, which will open this fall on the RSU campus in Claremore. The new laboratory will simulate an isolated, controlled hospital room to prepare nursing students to work with patients who may require a protected environment due to an infectious or contagious disease or a suppressed immune system.  

The new lab also will feature four new state-of-the-art intensive care patient beds; wall-mounted, bedside patient care units; and sinks designed for surgical hand-washing preparation. The lab is adjacent to a new electronic classroom equipped with the latest in audio-visual learning tools and Web-based instruction.

Private funding for the acute care lab and electronic classroom was provided by the Chapman Foundation, Founders and Associates, and Kerr Foundation, all from Tulsa, and by individual gifts made through the RSU Foundation.

"The new lab will help us accommodate rapidly growing enrollment in our nursing program, allowing us to educate more nurses and alleviate shortages in the profession," Andrews said. "It also will support our efforts to further expand the RSU nursing program."

RSU currently offers associate's degrees in nursing and emergency medical services in addition to a bridge program designed to educate licensed practical nurses and paramedics and prepare them for the registered nurse (R.N.) exam. The university plans to introduce a bachelor of science in nursing degree in the next two years.

"The establishment of this lab is among our efforts to further enhance the quality of the RSU nursing program, which is among the top programs in the state," Andrews said. RSU nursing students traditionally have enjoyed one of the highest pass rates on the R.N. licensure exam in Oklahoma.

EMS students also will benefit from the new facilities, which will enhance instruction in isolated patient care techniques, both inside and outside of the hospital environment.

"As first responders, emergency medical personnel are more likely to encounter toxins in the environment. For example, they are among the first to respond to chemical spills or other biohazards and therefore the utilization of isolation techniques are especially important to them," said Clem Ohman, coordinator of the RSU emergency medical services program. 

Before entering the isolation suite in the new acute care lab, students must pass through an alcove fitted with a foot-operated, decontamination sink where they will wash their hands and put on protective gloves, gowns and masks. Students and faculty also may view patient care in the protected room through an observation window.

"They will be learning how to take special precautions and better function in an isolated environment," Andrews said.

The acute care lab also features eight intensive care patient beds, donated by Claremore Regional Hospital. The beds include side rails, nurse call buttons and electronic adjustment, and also have the capability to record a patient's weight.

The private grants allowed the nursing program to purchase four electronic vital sign machines to record patients' pulse, blood pressure, temperature and oxygen level. The funding also enabled the program to purchase wall-mounted patient care units, bedside tables, cabinetry and other furniture to simulate a hospital environment.

The electronic classroom adjacent to the new lab features drop-down audio-visual screens and Web access so faculty may use the Internet as a tool during classroom instruction. The new facilities also include eight storage rooms to accommodate electronic mannequins, training models and other teaching tools.

The acute care lab will be the sixth learning lab in the Health Sciences Building, where RSU nursing and emergency medical services programs have been located since 1995. Other specially equipped learning labs include the Birthing Suite, which features specially equipped pregnant mannequins and birthing beds; the CPR Lab, an official American Heart Association training center; Home Living Lab, a simulated residential environment in the form of an apartment; Nursing Skills Lab, which simulates a health care environment with plastic patient models, hospital beds and medical equipment; and the Paramedic Lab, an intensive training environment for emergency medical care students.

For more information on RSU nursing and emergency medical services programs, call (918) 343-7631.