Downtown building renovated for classes
The vitals look good for Westmont College’s upcoming Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, which is expected to launch in January.
The program, run in partnership with Cottage Health received unanimous approval, during its feasibility study and had a successful site visit in late August.
Dr. Carol Velas, the program’s founding director, expects the California Board of Registered Nursing to give its full approval. This will be the second program she has helped build.
The budding nurses will be trained at Westmont’s downtown location at 26 Anapamu Street.
The college purchased the four-story building in December 2020 after $10 million contributed by donors. One such contributor is Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree, founder of Ridley-Tree Cancer Center at Sansum Clinic with Cottage Health.
Since then, the first and second floors have gotten a makeover, and top-of-the-line hospital beds line the freshly painted walls of the simulation labs.
But a lot more prepwork has gone into the program than what is visible on Anapamu.
Dr. Velas is working with project manager Steve Fellows, who served as Cottage Health’s executive vice president and chief operating officer for years.
She wrote the curriculum with Westmont’s Christian perspective at heart. She is also looking for Christian faculty.
Faith has been important to Dr. Velas’ career as a nurse and educator.
She worked at an adventist hospital for many years and felt at ease praying with patients. Intake forms ask for religious beliefs, so she incorporates faith in care for those who identify preferences.
“When we had sick babies in our nursery, there were probably 10 of us that would hold hands and pray over babies,” she told the News-Press. “And as we’re praying so hard over babies, the air changes, and you feel kind of energy passing between you. It’s really a phenomenal feeling that you get.”
Nursing is an emotionally tolling profession, so it feels nice to pray, she said. She thinks that engaging religious beliefs will help better prepare graduates for hard times ahead.
“As healthcare providers, we have to be ready for (disaster), and we have to understand how to get each other through,” she said. “Unfortunately, when COVID hit, I think nobody was prepared for what happened. There weren’t enough people out there to help.”
She sees a need for nurses and is glad to be part of the solution.
“We’ve all become acutely aware of the critical need for nurses,” Westmont President Gayle D. Beebe said in a news release. “It’s not just a skilled practice, it’s a courageous one. We seek to graduate highly sought-after nurses who’ve benefited from the breadth of our liberal arts education and grown in all areas of their lives, developing key qualities such as compassion and empathy.”
The program is limited to cohorts of 24 students, not because of the community’s need or interest levels but because of clinical capacity.
Santa Barbara’s health care settings host nursing students from Santa Barbara City College and California State Channel Islands. If there are too many students in a community, some may not graduate on time.
Dr. Velas is “very sensitive” about the issue and contacted the other schools’ programs before launching.
“I went to both of them and I said, ‘Hey, Westmont is going to start a school. And I promise you, your students will never be displaced. We will take what’s left; we’ll take the leftovers, and we’ll be happy that we can,’” she said.
“It’s been wonderful to work with Cottage and know that we’re not taking up anybody’s space,” she said. “And Santa Barbara does need every single nurse that graduates no matter what program they’re from.”
Students will graduate after 15 months in the accelerated program, ready for licensure exams.